The government’s JobMaker program could kick-start Australia’s recovery – or kneecap it.
As speeches go, it wasn’t Chifley’s “Light on a hill” or Keating’s Redfern Park Address. In terms of providing a definitive roadmap to recovery, ScoMo might as well have scribbled a series of dot points on a Press Club napkin moments before he took the podium. As a source of Scott Morrison sound bites, it was a gold mine. The man who wanted to stop the boats now wants them to go faster – different boats for different folks.
But in between hokey anecdotes about letters he’d received from constituents and stories of his disastrous time heading up New Zealand’s Office of Tourism and Sport, Mr Morrison offered glimpses of the plan that could reshape Australia’s economic landscape for decades.
“The overwhelming priority of this reset will be to win the battle for jobs,” Mr Morrison told the National Press Club. JobMaker will be the centrepiece of that reset – a program that will be guided by the “principals that we as Liberals and Nationals have always believed in”. The jury is out on whether that’s a promise or a threat.
“The idea that a Liberal government is about to engage in industrial relations reform will send a chill down the spine of every Australian worker,” said Richard Marles, deputy leader of the Labor Party.
But Morrison’s plan might have legs. JobMaker will allegedly make vocational work easier and more attractive to attain by better linking funding to forward-looking skills needs, increasing funding transparency, and “simplifying the system” by “achieving greater consistency between jurisdictions, and between VET and universities”.
Attorney-General Christian Porter will also be working on industrial relations reform by chairing working groups focused on award simplification, enterprise agreement making, casuals and fixed-term employees, compliance and enforcement, and Greenfields agreements for new enterprises. Mr Morrison also reserved the right to disregard the conclusions of those working groups, saying “ultimately, it will the government that will take a forward job making agenda from this process”.
So far, the government has managed to roll out a relatively blunder-free fiscal stimulus (save the timely discovery that it was only going to cost half of what they projected). JobMaker will be what solidifies Mr Morrison’s COVID-19 legacy, and he’s going to do anything to pull it off. That’s what its critics are afraid of. Empowered by the current crisis, the government could well usher in a new era of heavy deregulation that makes Australian businesses more competitive at the cost of labour protections. But if JobMaker is a success – if the plan that the government has sketched out catapults the country out of recession and into a more prosperous era – all those trips to Hawaii will soon be forgotten.