Whilst there has been a great deal of discussion about individual measures announced in the budget, there has been less analysis of what it is trying to achieve in the long run.
I can’t keep up with the slogans but as far as I am aware, everyone still thinks it is a good idea to try to get people working but, aside from big promises about infrastructure and defence spending which will likely be a long time in the planning, there seems little coherent strategy about our changing employment or, more broadly, about the risks facing us both domestically and globally.
Last year, the Department of Employment released a report on Employment projections for the five years to November 2020.
- Employment is projected to increase in 16 of the 19 broad industries over the five years to November 2020, with declines in employment projected for Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing, Mining and Manufacturing.
- The long term structural shift in employment towards services industries is projected to continue over the coming five years. Health Care and Social Assistance is projected to make the largest contribution to employment growth (increasing by 250,200), followed by Professional, Scientific and Technical Services (151,200), Education and Training (121,700) and Retail Trade (106,000). Together, these four industries are projected to provide more than half of total employment growth over the five years to November 2020.
Considering this advice from their own department, policy decisions are even more inexplicable.
We lost billions of dollars by repealing the carbon and mining taxes and cutting tariffs (far more quickly than our trading partners). We are going to spend further billions on emission reduction payments to polluters (or paying farmers not to carry stock or clear land), fossil fuel subsidies, inland rail, a possible railway to the Galilee Basin, assistance for farmers and grants for mining exploration.
We are propping up industries that, by their own admission, will be decreasing jobs even as our population increases.
Health Care and Social Assistance has been the primary provider of new jobs in the Australian labour market since the 1990s. With the implementation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, Australia’s ageing population, and increasing demand for childcare and home based care services, this trend will only continue with employment growth likely to favour part-time and female workers.
But the Coalition government has cut wages and funding in several of these crucial growth areas and hospital funding remains an ongoing battleground.
Growth in employment in Professional, Scientific and Technical Services and in Education and Training reflects ongoing strength in demand for the services of qualified and highly educated workers throughout the economy.
But the government is cutting university funding, reducing promised school funding by $22 billion, cutting research funding, and persisting with a bastardised NBN which has resulted in us not even making the top 50 for internet speed.
Historically low interest rates and an improvement in domestic tourism as a result of the lower Australian dollar are expected to underpin solid employment growth in Retail Trade and Accommodation and Food Services.
But the government cut penalty rates for workers in these industries and seem totally unconcerned about destroying our natural environment which is the draw card for tourism. Business confidence may ride high on the wave of promised tax cuts but consumer spending is nose-diving. Without customers with disposable income, these industries suffer.
Construction industry employment is projected to grow by 87,000 (or 8.3 per cent) despite a decline in construction associated with the resources sector.
But the government has done everything in its power to destroy the union that protects these workers against widespread exploitation.
The 2017 Global Risks Report produced by the World Economic Forum examines “globally interconnected risks, risks which must be factored into modern life.”
“The most pressing of these risks relates to our environment. Even though the risk will play out over the long term, actions have to be immediate and long-lasting to have any hope of reversing the trajectory of climate change.”
Extreme weather events, large natural disasters and failure of mitigation and adaptation to climate change are the most prominent global risks in terms of both impact and likelihood.
But the budget axed funding for the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF), an agency that provides information to decision-makers on how best to manage the risks of climate change and sea level rise.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in its most recent major assessment report, pointed out that Australia can benefit significantly from taking adaptation action in highly vulnerable sectors.
These areas of vulnerability include: the risk of more frequent and intense floods; water shortages in southern regions; deaths and infrastructure damage caused by heatwaves; bushfires; and impacts on low-lying coastal communities.
But Scott Morrison says not one word.
The WEF also highlighted socio-economic considerations exacerbating global risk, including rising income inequality and the polarization of our society along ethnic, religious and cultural lines.
“Underfunded state social systems, the rise in “non-traditional” employment models from gig economies to zero-hour contracts, prolonged periods of low interest rates that increases the burden of saving for retirement, and demographic pressures like ageing populations and mass migration all place great strain on social protection systems.
We need social protection options that are flexible enough to adapt to new realities in 2017 and beyond. The best social protection solutions will be highly interconnected. Collaboration among state, business and the individual will be crucial. Fail to act and we risk threatening government finances and increasing social unrest.”
Despite the overwhelming evidence of the economic and social benefit, our government does nothing to address inequality. Quite the reverse. They cut taxes for the wealthy and increase them for the poor. They cut wages for the lowest income earners and regulations and taxes for big business. They destroy workers’ capacity to collectively bargain for workplace entitlements. They pursue welfare recipients mercilessly whilst refusing to rein in concessions for the rich.
Until the government understands that the well-being of our poorest citizens, the health of our Indigenous people, the safety of our most vulnerable, the future for refugees fleeing war and oppression, the quality of life for our aged, the education of every child, and the protection of our environment, are all inextricably linked to the prosperity and cohesion of the nation, we face a bleak future.
Risk assessment does not mean examining the latest Newspoll and doing surveys in marginal electorates.
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