Ladies and gentlemen.
It’s a great pleasure to be here with you for the event.
Thank you to Margy, who I’ve known for many years and have worked with closely in a number of portfolios and is a great ambassador for this sector and this organisation. So, thank you very much.
Also to my friend and long-time colleague Bruce Baird. Bruce, great to see you’re still very involved in the sector.
To many familiar faces in the room today, thank you very much for the work you do for this incredibly important sector.
For more than 30 years, the TTF has brilliantly represented critical areas of our economy and the workers who underpin it.
Of course, to say that the last few years have been tough or difficult or turbulent for the sectors here and right across the Australian economy is absolutely an understatement.
Your sectors were amongst the hardest hit by the pandemic – tourism, transport, aviation, accommodation, hospitality, entertainment, infrastructure, and many more besides.
Border closures, travel restrictions and supply chain disruptions forced businesses in your sectors to operate at reduced speeds or indeed to be brought to a standstill.
In 2017-18 and 2018-19, more than 46 million international air and sea passengers crossed our border.
Those numbers dropped to 35 million in 2019-20 and shrunk to a mere 2.4 million, as you well know, in 2020-21.
Visitor visas granted numbered some 5.6 million in 2017-18 and 2018-19.
They fell to 4.1 million in 2019-20 and plunged to just 200,000 in 2020-21.
This trickle of pre-pandemic international traveller and tourist flows to Australia echoes the tragic global story of the past few years.
Many of us will know people in large numbers who lost their jobs, who lost their homes in some cases because their businesses just couldn’t stay afloat.
And hard-working Australians whose experiences saw them pack-up and leave, as was mentioned before, some people still were thinking about in chance their arm elsewhere – either domestically or internationally, either in this sector or in a new industry.
But while sectors have been bruised by the pandemic, they have of course not been broken.
Despite the hardships, Australian industries and businesses displayed remarkable resilience and ingenuity.
Commendably, many in your sectors adjusted and even reinvented their business models.
There were many local campaigns, of course the ‘holiday at home’ campaign.
Your own resourcefulness was a survival factor.
Another of course, was our robust economic position leading into the pandemic.
Had the Coalition government not reinvigorated and prudently managed Australia’s economy over the seven years prior to the pandemic, we just simply wouldn’t have been in the strong position to implement the suite of support measures that we did.
JobKeeper assisted 1 million businesses and kept 4 million Australians in a job.
Our cash flow boosts helped 820,000 businesses.
More than $20 billion dollars went into the tourism and hospitality industry alone.
We put the economy effectively on life support and saved lives and livelihoods.
We emerged from the pandemic in an economic position the envy of most nations.
On almost every economic measure, Australia was either world-leading or fared better than most countries.
It was our strong economic management which saw us post record investments in tourism, ports, airports, highways, roads, rail and other infrastructure.
Indeed, the Final Budget Outcome for 2021-22 revealed a $48 billion dollar reduction in the deficit and a $115 billion dollar reduction in debt compared to the Budget handed down in March.
In just one year – between 2020-21 and 2021-22 – the Budget improved by over $100 billion dollars.
Today, however, the world is contending with an array of challenges born from the pandemic and amplified by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine:
Rising interest rates.
Soaring cost of living and operating a business.
Energy supply, security and affordability issues.
Skills shortages across sectors.
The prospect of recessions in the US, in the UK and broader Europe.
And even a global downturn.
For Australia, though, the fundamentals of our economy are strong.
And because of the actions over the last nine years, I’m proud to say we are in a much stronger position than many of those countries in Europe.
We were able to make necessary and sometimes tough budget calls.
But we now need prudent policy decisions which help shield us from expected headwinds over the next few years.
Policies which generate productivity across the economy, which lower costs, which keep taxes down, address skills shortages, and nurture investor confidence.
Every nation is dealing with a bad situation.
They’re the cards we have all been dealt.
But the government needs to make a bad situation better – not worse.
Next Tuesday’s Budget will be the test to see whether the government can get the settings right to deal with the next event.
The last thing Australians need at this time is higher taxes.
The last thing our economy needs is misguided spending.
In your sectors, like others, there is an urgent need to address skilled and unskilled labour shortages.
ABS reporting showed increases in job vacancies between May and August in the transport, accommodation, food services and retail sectors.
In June, the Coalition announced our policy to double the Age and Veteran Service Pension Work Bonus Scheme from $300 to $600 dollars per fortnight – or to $1,200 dollars for couples.
A policy which was aimed at allowing older Australians and veterans to work more, if they chose to do so, and importantly without financial burden, without them losing part of their pension payment.
It appealed to employers across the economy who are indeed crying out for labour to fill vacancies.
It was enticing to older Australians and veterans seeking additional cash to supplement their pensions to deal with cost of living pressures.
For those Australians who are on fixed incomes, with rising cost of living pressures, particularly electricity prices, the months and years ahead will become more difficult.
Importantly this policy would switch-on an auxiliary workforce with experience, with skills, with enthusiasm to provide immediate relief to many businesses.
The Albanese government, to their credit, came out and supported our idea.
Yet it took them until September – when the media spotlight was on the Jobs and Skills Summit – to release its own policy.
Regrettably, Labor’s ‘income credit’ policy – as they called it – fell far short of what we are proposing.
It’s a one-off measure which will cease in June next year.
It’s about 25 per cent less than the Coalition’s proposal.
At a time when we need more incentive to get people to work, not less, to get people into those jobs.
It’s proven to be too little, too temporary, and too late.
As a country we need policies which can mobilise an action-ready workforce.
A workforce which could, for example, plug skills gaps in businesses supporting the tourism sector.
Around 2.5 million Australians receive the Age Pension of which some 1.4 million live in metropolitan areas.
Some 200,000 Australians receive a Veterans’ Pension of which more than 107,000 live in metropolitan areas.
In Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne – they are the top-ranking overnight destinations.
In Brisbane and the immediate surrounds, for example, around 150,000 people receive the Age Pension and almost 17,000 are Veterans’ Pensioners.
Or take the central Gold Coast, as an example, which ranks seventh on overnight destinations list.
There, more than 64,000 people receive the Age Pension and more than 6,000 are on the Veterans’ Pension. That’s about one out of every nine residents.
In addition to a domestic workforce, of course, we need migration.
The government’s announcement to increase the permanent migration intake has been delayed because of union pressure.
And we still don’t know whether it will target young skilled migrants or include other cohorts.
We don’t know what efforts are being made to align the program with identified skills shortages.
Home Affairs is scrambling to hire literally hundreds of staff to accommodate visa processing demands, where surge capability from other departments should have already been deployed.
Now, while there is a national contest for talent between sectors, there is also a global contest for skills.
Employers know they need to provide pay and conditions which will entice migrants to choose Australia over other competitors – and they’re doing that.
It’s up to the government to ensure that our labour market settings are geared correctly; that visas can be quickly processed without compromising the integrity of the migration program.
Migration is imperative to addressing skills shortages, but it’s a medium to long-term solution and certainly no silver bullet.
Labor market shortage is a problem across developed countries, and concerningly, the problem may be dealt with by a tightening over the next year.
Increased productivity – as we know – is essential, but it was a debate missing from the Jobs and Skills Summit love-in.
And the Albanese government is not only missing opportunities to lift productivity, its policies also threaten to undermine it.
No more so than its proposal to reform multi-employer bargaining.
Common between the sectors represented by the TTF is a reliance on tourists and traveller flows to generate business.
But each industry, as we know, and the businesses within it, are unique.
You have workers with different qualifications, different experience, different skills who work different hours, in different locations with different conditions.
Now, just as there are differences between multiple businesses, there can, of course, be differences within an individual business.
Even in small businesses, employees will perform distinct functions on a spectrum of low to highly skilled in nature.
Securing the most favourable and fair conditions is something best negotiated between employees and their employer, so that they can tailor to specific workplaces.
The Productivity Commission’s interim report into labour market productivity – released this month – highlighted concerns with multi-employer bargaining.
The risk of diminished productivity when wages and conditions are set for a group of firms in a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
That businesses would have to compromise their requirements and flexibilities.
And that it could give rise to anti-competitive behaviours which would impact consumers through increased prices and reduced quality.
Multi-employer agreements that morph into industry-wide agreements will crush the autonomy of businesses and their staff.
We will see the individuality and aspirations of business disappear in favour of agenda-driven collectivism.
It will turn back the clock to industrial relations to a bygone era characterised by the mob-like intimidation and extortion at the behest of union leaders.
For decades, union leaders have witnessed their movement in decline.
Union membership across Australia’s private sector workforce today is less than 10 per cent.
Through collective bargaining, the government wants to resurrect the power of these union leaders.
Claims of making bargaining more accessible to more people is – as we know – nothing but a smokescreen.
Remember, Labor refused to back the Coalition government’s reforms to improve and streamline enterprise agreement-making which sought to balance the needs of both employers and employees.
Labor and the unions did not support our changes to the Better Off Overall Test.
So, when we hear their rhetoric today about wanting to drive higher wages and reduce bargaining productivity, we should understand the agenda that lies beneath their words.
Their industrial relations proposals will be used to cannibalise small businesses – to bend the will of employers and employees to suit the union agenda.
We are at risk of seeing a return of the days of the vicious wage-price inflationary cycle.
Where, in that situation – and not many people have it within their living memories – but we have increased costs of living that leads to demands for higher wages.
Higher wages received generates increased demand for goods and services.
And where production costs to meet that greater supply of goods and services causes prices and costs of living to increase.
The vicious cycle gains momentum when empowered unions make unreasonable wage ultimatums which employers and the economy – particularly in the environment over the next calendar year – simply cannot afford.
If union demands are not met, it will be ‘tools down’ and ‘take it to the streets’.
Multi-employer bargaining will engender walkouts and shutdowns on a mass scale, including by those unaffected by disputes who join protests in sympathy and solidarity.
It will revive the crippling economy-wide strikes of the ‘70s and ‘80s, crush productivity in the process, and have the potential to devastate the economy.
While we are yet to see the full detail of Labor’s agenda, some of it will become clear next week in Parliament.
We have to have particular concern when people like Sally McManus and Michael Kaine have demanded that workers have strike powers under multi-employer bargaining, including to strike simultaneously.
The Productivity Commission’s interim report noted that removing restrictions on protected industrial action could lead to wider industrial action, thus impacting productivity, supply chains and the broader economy.
Ladies and gentlemen, I just want today, very sincerely to say thank you to many people in this room,
for your efforts, for your resilience, for your tenacity – in individual businesses and the TTF alike.
The last two years has been unprecedented – and more difficult that anyone could have imagined to plan for in any proposition in their business.
The fact is that people did stand up, in order to engage with the government and we responded in kind.
Our Coalition is committed to working with you into the future as we have done, and as we have demonstrated can be done productively in the past.
Growth in productivity is the pathway to economic recovery.
The Albanese government will not lift productivity through half measures.
Through policies which empower unions and undermine the autonomy of business and industry.
Or, indeed, through higher taxes and more spending.
Tuesday’s Budget will give Australians a sense of whether Labor will double down on its ideological positions, or it can set them aside in the national economic interest.
Thank you very much.