Chief Minister Andrew Barr is set to announce further stimulus measures for the hospitality industry on Friday (29 May) that will help the sector beyond the September cut off for Commonwealth subsidies.
Fee and regulatory reform will be amongst the announcements as the ACT Government looks to extend its current stimulus provisions beyond September when the Commonwealth’s JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments are set to end.
Mr Barr foreshadowed the extra stimulus measures on the same day that Prime Minister Scott Morrison prefaced new industrial relations reforms to help the Australian economy out of the pandemic.
The ACT recovery effort will extend into the long-term, Mr Barr said, as he urged the Federal Government to extend its JobKeeper and JobSeeker support beyond the short-term.
“[The new package] will touch on areas of fee relief, regulatory reform, and on extending some of the provisions that are in place now that were put in place for the COVID-emergency,” he said.
“This is done in recognition of the fact that the recovery path for the hospitality industry, in particular, is not just going to be three or six months. It, like the tourism industry, is going to need ongoing support for a longer period of time.”
Mr Barr took the opportunity to call on the Federal Government to use its $60 billion estimate blunder of its JobKeeper program as a catalyst for reform, saying it should expand the program to cover the arts and university sectors and extend the payments beyond September.
“The programs should be expanded, reshaped and extended for those industry sectors that will remain under public health directions beyond September,” he said.
“What is has done is given the Commonwealth room to move on this. Now I understand that they will not want to move massively, but they have an opportunity here to address some of the inequities in some of the arrangements when they undertake the review next month.
“They also have the opportunity to include the arts and entertainment industries, and universities in their consideration.”
The JobSeeker payment – formally Newstart – was also in the sights of the Chief Minister, who said it would be “unacceptable” to revert back to the old payment after the stimulus measures are set to end.
“They also have the opportunity to do something lasting in relation to unemployment benefits,” he said.
“The suggestions that JobSeeker payments could just revert to the old Newstart payment is just completely unacceptable and they must move on that question.
“It is just no way that it is sustainable for someone to live on just $40 a day in a labour market like we are going to face in the coming few years.”
The calls for reform came on the same day the Prime Minister addressed the National Press Club, briefing journalists on the Government’s new ‘JobMaker’ plan, which aims to “fix systemic problems and realise gains as a matter of urgency to get more people back into work”.
Award simplification, simplified enterprise agreement making, changes through the Fair Work Commission, greater compliance and enforcement and Greenfields agreements for new enterprises, were all flagged by Mr Morrison.
Mr Morrison called the current system – where the Commonwealth gives $1.5 billion in untied funding to states and territories every year – ineffective.
It is a point that the ACT Minister for Tertiary Education, Chris Steel, strongly refutes.
“The States and Territories have had to prop up the vocational education and training (VET) sector in the face of compounding Federal Government cuts over the past decade,” Mr Steel said.
“Over the past 10 years the ACT Government has increased funding for Skills and Vocational Education by $24 million (28 per cent), whilst the Commonwealth Government’s contribution to VET has remained stagnant at a time when student numbers have increased.
“After cutting the skills sector for a decade, we are concerned that the Federal Government now wants to lead a race to the bottom of cheap, poor quality training that does not meet local needs.”
The new JobMaker would not be applied equally throughout all jurisdictions because of the varying size and population of the states and territories, Mr Barr said,
“The challenge is going to be how a new national system is going to operate and still meet the needs of local economies,” Mr Barr said.
“The model that the Prime Minister talked about – national efficient pricing – always works against smaller jurisdictions that lack the economies of scale so those sorts of questions will need to be considered in taking any reforms forward.”