STATEMENTS BY SENATORS;Tasmania: Employment – 09 Sep 2015

I would like to address the very important issue of jobs in my home state of Tasmania and the lack of action by state and federal governments. Mr Abbott was in Hobart over the weekend, belatedly re-announcing the $16 million former Cadbury funding more than two years after it was promised. This follows the embarrassment of the Abbott government’s only other new program for Tasmanian jobs, the so-called Tasmanian Jobs Program, which had only 144 out of a promised 2,000 participants. The Abbott government loves to pretend they are creating jobs in Tasmania as their ministers and the three amigos travel about the countryside re-announcing projects that were already committed to under Labor’s jobs and growth plan. The fact is that Mr Abbott is only focussed on one job, and we all know whose that is—his own.

Given the lack of support provided by their federal counterparts you would think that the Tasmanian Liberal government would be doing everything in their power to create local jobs. But not so when it comes to securing local content in government contracts. There has been a campaign to urge the Tasmanian government to mandate minimum levels of local labour and materials in its building contracts. It follows revelations that 130 foreign workers have been flown in to work on the refurbishment of TT-Line’s Spirit of Tasmania ferries. Tasmania’s Minister for Infrastructure, Rene Hidding, promised that the majority of the 156 workers employed on the refurbishment of Spirit of Tasmania I would be Australian.

It is not just the $30 million Spirit refurbishment that is sending Tasmanian money overseas. Materials and labour are also being sourced from mainland Australia for work on the $100 million Parliament Square development, such as plastering and glazing. With the next phase of the Royal Hobart Hospital development due to commence soon, will local contractors and their employees even get a look in? Tasmania has local contractors and workers with the necessary skills to complete these tasks but, instead of using these projects to help boost the local economy, the Tasmanian government is sending its money interstate and overseas. Given the costs of flying workers into Tasmania, I simply cannot understand how these bids can be price competitive while still providing basic award entitlements such as living away from home allowance.

Given the Tasmanian Liberals’ record on local procurement, it makes me wonder how they are applying their local benefits test for government contracts. Ironically, the Tasmanian government are running a $100,000 Think Local First campaign, urging Tasmanians to buy local products and services and support the state’s 38,000 small businesses. I am all for supporting local businesses in my home state—I have two brothers in small businesses and my parents ran small businesses for many years so I am very aware of how small business works and I am all for supporting it—but it really undermines the effectiveness of the campaign when the Tasmanian government will not even practise what it preaches. For the past month, the union movement have been calling on the Premier, Will Hodgman, to meet with them to discuss the issue, but so far their calls have fallen on deaf ears. The message to the Tasmanian government was reaffirmed by a rally held outside the Tasmanian parliament on 14 August which was attended by 500 people.

Mandated levels of local labour and materials in state government procurement are not difficult to achieve, yet the Tasmanian government will not even try. Let’s just compare that with the Northern Territory. The Northern Territory government recently entered into a contract with Lendlease for the $150 million Palmerston Hospital development. The contract stipulated that 90 per cent of labour and materials had to be sourced from the Northern Territory. If the Northern Territory can mandate local content for such a major development, surely, so can Tasmania.

If the Tasmanian government seriously think that we do not have local skills to deliver on major projects then they should, at least, require that their contractors attempt to recruit locally or engage in labour market testing. Surely there are Tasmanian workers available for jobs such as plastering and glazing. And if there really is such a shortage of skilled Tasmanians to do this work then what is the government doing to train and skill workers to fill these positions, particularly when nearly 100,000 apprentice and trainee positions have been lost Australia wide, due to the Abbott government’s training cuts?

This is not just about the hundreds of Tasmanian jobs these construction projects have the potential to create; it is about the thousands of Tasmanians relying on this money flowing through the local economy. I am at a loss to understand why it has taken the Tasmanian government so long to agree to, at least, sit down with the unions and discuss the issue.

The Premier, Will Hodgman, or his infrastructure minister, Rene Hidding, should meet with them immediately to discuss how they can work together to deliver more jobs for Tasmanians. They not only owe it to the unions and their members but they owe it to all Tasmanians.