Local Jobs Matter

Mr STEPHEN JONES (Whitlam): A short time ago the member for Gilmore asked that I apologise

for campaigning to save jobs in her electorate. I declined to do so. In fact, I invite her to join with me in defence

of the 70 defence workers' jobs at the HMAS Albatross naval base in Nowra in her electorate. 

It is proposed that 70 jobs be cut. We understand a restructure has occurred throughout this area of the Department of Defence.

This restructure was confirmed to the ABC. It was reported by an ABC Illawarra reporter who had had discussions

with the Chief of Navy, Tim Barrett, who has confirmed that this restructure is occurring as a result of a first

principles review, known as Pectel report, that was conducted. These are jobs from the Navy aviation system

program office. Jobs of this sort are highly sought after in regional Australia. If you work on a rough estimate of a

value to the local economy of about $100,000 per position—although that doesn't mean that's what the worker is

getting—removing 70 of these positions equates to around $7 million recurrent that would no longer be enjoyed in

the Nowra economy.

 

I understand that the member is embarrassed because she didn't know that this restructure was occurring. I

understand that the member may be embarrassed because, at the same time that her government is purportedly

campaigning to decentralise jobs out of Canberra and into the regions, we have, in a regional electorate, a

proposal to centralise jobs from the region back to Canberra. But being embarrassed is not an excuse to not do

everything that is within your power to stop these job cuts from occurring. The member for Gilmore says that she

has information which may refute what the staff have been told in a staff briefing and what the Chief of Navy,

Tim Barrett, has confirmed is going on within the department. She said in the House a little while ago that she has

confidential information. She did not table that information. I can understand that there may be good reasons that

a confidential document from the Department of Defence that was in her possession was not tabled and made

public, but there are a number of things that the member for Gilmore and, in fact, the government could do to

clarify this matter.

 

The member for Gilmore could do what I did on 13 October when news of this proposal to recentralise jobs

from Nowra to Canberra first broke. She could write to the Hon. Fiona Nash, the Minister for Regional

Development, who is currently in charge of a project to decentralise jobs out of Canberra. She could have done

what I did and demanded that the minister directly intervene to stop these jobs being lost. To the best of our

knowledge, no such approach has been made to the minister. If she had wanted to, she could have written to either

of the ministers for defence, Senator Payne or the member for Sturt, and asked them to directly intervene to stop

these job cuts out of Nowra from occurring. To the best of our knowledge, this has not occurred.

 

This is not a small matter. In places like Nowra and, in fact, right throughout regional Australia, defence jobs

matter; public sector jobs matter. As I said, over the last 12 months the coalition have been running a campaign

purportedly around decentralising jobs out of Canberra and into the regions for the employment benefits that

would flow. I and many on the Labor side have been very sceptical about the rhetoric behind the government's

proposed campaign to decentralise. The reason we are sceptical is that, over that same period—and, in fact, since

2014—they have removed 890 ongoing Public Service jobs from regional towns throughout Australia. Deputy

Speaker Goodenough, these jobs include over 760 roles in regional New South Wales, over 180 jobs in regional

Queensland and over 320 roles from your home state of Western Australia. That's 320 roles no longer performed

out of Western Australia. In total, over 890 ongoing Public Service jobs have been taken out of regional Australia

at a time when towns are screaming out for quality jobs, ongoing jobs and secure jobs such as these.

 

In the electorate of Gilmore, the town of Nowra, like so many other towns around Australia, needs somebody

who is willing to fight for the jobs that they have right now and fight for the jobs that they need in the future. The

Shoalhaven has a higher-than-average level of unemployment—around 6.6 per cent, close to seven per cent, and

higher in some of the hotspot towns up and down the Princes Highway. Youth unemployment has a figure that

will shock you: youth unemployment is over 28 per cent. That's in the electorate of Gilmore, in the area of the

Shoalhaven. We really do need at this time, more than ever, somebody who is willing to fight for the jobs in the

Shoalhaven—somebody who's willing to fight for the jobs that we have and to keep the jobs and grow the jobs in

these areas.

 

I was very disturbed when news of the high level of youth unemployment broke last week, when Senator Cash

toured the Shoalhaven to promote the government's PaTH program, which I'll return to in a moment. Instead of

saying that we have a crisis and we need to do something about it, the member for Gilmore described the figures

as 'statistically weird' and that we had to have a government taskforce to look into the black economy, somehow

suggesting that maybe there were more people working in Gilmore and that the 28.1 per cent of young people

without a job weren't telling the truth. That beggars belief. We need somebody who is willing to fight for jobs in

regional Australia.

 

I will say something about Defence jobs in particular. My concern is that the 70 jobs and others could be slated

to be removed from Nowra and taken back to Canberra or taken elsewhere. Defence is one of the most

decentralised agencies in the Australian Public Service. Right around the country, from Townsville in the north to

northern Victoria, Rockhampton, Darwin, Nowra, Jervis Bay, Newcastle, throughout South Australia and in

Mount Isa there are Defence bases. Public sector employees work at those bases in good and meaningful jobs that

are critical to our national economy and our national security. Those jobs are a source of income for the people in

those towns. At a time when the government is seriously talking about decentralisation, we need to send a very

clear message through the minister to the Department of Defence that Defence jobs in regional Australia matter. If

there is no compromise to our national security, we should be prioritising the location of Defence jobs and the

maintenance of those Defence jobs in regional Australia because it means so much to those regional economies.

 

Today, Mr Deputy Speaker Goodenough, through you to the Minister for Defence and to the heads of our

national defence agencies, I call on the department to ensure that these jobs in Nowra are saved and other jobs in

regional Australia in the Department of Defence are saved. It makes no sense for the government to say, 'We are

going to transfer jobs out of Canberra into the regions of Australia to create employment opportunities,' if, in the

very next step, they do the opposite. It's all very well for the Deputy Prime Minister to say, 'I moved a handful of

jobs out of Canberra to Armidale at a cost of $26 million,' but the jobs in Nowra exist in regional Australia today.

We call on the member for Gilmore to fight for those jobs and we call on the minister to do the right thing and put

a stop now to any changes to move those jobs. It is within the gift of the minister to put a stop to this and make a

statement in the Senate today to say, 'This will not occur.' If the minister does that, I will congratulate them.

 

 

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