Liza Harvey claims WA Govt has ‘given nothing’ to small, medium business as unemployment reaches historic high

The West Australian

More than 20,000 women picked up part-time work last month following the re-opening of the State’s hospitality and services sectors, although that could not prevent WA’s unemployment rate rising to 8.7 per cent – the second worst in Australia and highest since 1994

The move to Phase Three restrictions on June 6 — which allowed up to 100 people in hospitality venues and the unshuttering of gyms, beauty salons, galleries, cinemas and theatres — underpinned the addition of 34,000 part-time jobs, most of which were snapped up by young people.

As a result, the youth unemployment rate ticked down one percentage point to 15.2 per cent while the underemployment rate also dropped from 12.1 per cent to 10.8 per cent.

Women picked up 20,400 of the new part-time jobs (60 per cent) compared to 13,600 for men.

After being stood down following the first wave of COVID-19 restrictions in late March, Esther McCourt returned to work at The Shoe Bar in Yagan Square for the first time in early June.

The 21-year-old psychology student said competition for shifts among staff was fierce but that she was grateful to be back behind the bar at all.

Back in the day we were getting smashed and the café was open until 11pm… now it closes around 3pm.

Esther McCourt

“I’m getting three shifts a week now as opposed to four or five before (but) I’d say The Shoe is half as busy as pre-COVID,” she said.

“Back in the day we were getting smashed and the café was staying open until like 11pm — now it closes around 3pm or 4pm.”

The part-time job gains were tempered by the loss of 14,400 full-time jobs as businesses in sectors other than hospitality continued to struggle with the economic uncertainty caused by coronavirus.

The Shoe barperson Esther McCourt.
The Shoe barperson Esther McCourt. Credit: Danella Bevis/The West Australian

The number of unemployed West Australians climbed to a new record high of 123,900 – a jump of nearly 12,000 compared to May – and the State had the second worst jobless rate in the country, well above the national average (7.4 per cent) and behind only South Australia (8.8 per cent).

While WA added around 22,000 total jobs in June, the first monthly increase since the pandemic struck, the gains were neutralised by 34,000 West Australians re-joining the labour force in search of work.

Western Australia is now down to the third lowest rate of youth unemployment (in Australia).

Ben Wyatt

A big chunk of that rise can be attributed to changes to JobSeeker that required people receiving the welfare payments to begin actively looking for employment, resulting in their reclassification as jobless rather than not in the labour force.

It also contributed to the State’s participation rate — which measures the percentage of working age people either in jobs or actively seeking employment – vaulting a record 1.6 percentage points to 66.6 per cent.

Treasurer Ben Wyatt said the June jobs data only captured the “early easing of restrictions” and that it would take more time for the substantial re-opening of WA businesses to be reflected in the ABS figures.

WA Treasurer Ben Wyatt.
WA Treasurer Ben Wyatt. Credit: Justin Benson-Cooper/The West Australian

He said advertised job vacancies had now rebounded to pre-COVID levels and that the surge in jobs for people under 25 and women was particularly encouraging, as well as reflective of their over representation in the hospitality industry.

“We saw (youth employment) grow at 5.5 percent, nearly 10,000 jobs in (that age) range, which brings Western Australia now down to the third lowest rate of youth unemployment (in Australia),” Mr Wyatt said.

Opposition Leader Liza Harvey said the rising unemployment rate illustrated support and stimulus measures announced by the WA Government to date fell well short of what was required, especially for small business owners.

WA State opposition leader Liza Harvey.
WA State opposition leader Liza Harvey. Credit: Justin Benson-Cooper/The West Australian

“Every other State has had at least one round of small business cash flow grants — Queensland has had two rounds,” Mrs Harvey said.

“Our government has given nothing to the small and medium business owners who are in fact the majority employer in Western Australia.”

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the McGowan Government expects to deliver a budget surplus in 2019-20, although less than the $2.6 billion figure forecast in December.

“If there’s a budget surplus, that means there’s taxpayer funds that could have been used to help intervene in this employment crisis,” Mrs Harvey said.

“I’ll be very disappointed if we see a big budget surplus delivered in October when we’re seeing the demise of so many small businesses.”

Our government has given nothing to the small and medium business owners.

Liza Harvey

Mrs Harvey’s comments came on the same day the McGowan Government revealed previously announced one-off $17,500 grants for small and medium-sized businesses would flow out the door from “this week”.

Mr Wyatt could not today provide an update on how much of the McGowan’s $2.3 billion coronavirus support package had actually been spent but rejected suggestions he was holding money back.

“A range of reasons drive why supports haven’t been taken up,” he said.

“Either it’s not required, or the in case of land tax isn’t terribly high so for whatever reasons people won’t apply.”

The federal government will today unveil a multi-billion dollar skills package to help job seekers who are struggling to gain employment.

His comments came after the West Australian revealed just 0.2 per cent of a possible $100 million in land tax grants had been claimed by mid-June. Just 0.1 per cent of $30 million available for residential rent relief was spent in the same period.

Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA chief economist Aaron Morey said the continued haemorrhaging of full-time jobs highlighted the need to provide business with a clear plan to co-exist with coronavirus.

“It is really important to provide as much guidance and information as possible around plans for living with this virus and re-opening economy and what our attitude to risk is,” Mr Morey said.

People queue at Cannington Centrelink.
People queue at Cannington Centrelink. Credit: Simon Santi/The West Australian

He said households continued to be propped up by temporary support measures — such as JobSeeker, JobKeeper, deferred loan repayments and early access to superannuation — and that “we need to wean the economy off (government support) at some point”.

“We are seeing retail expenditure up five per cent year-on-year and a lot of that is being driven by the public money washing through the system,” he said.

“Clearly at some point that has got to end and we’ve really got to have a mindset of driving and creating new jobs and that is going to come down to what businesses do and how willing they are to invest.”