Australians have done a remarkable job of listening to the experts and following the tough restrictions throughout the COVID-19 crisis. As a result, from a health perspective we are in a very good position compared with other countries around the world. However, while COVID-19 is a health crisis, first and foremost it's also an economic crisis. The government need to develop a jobs strategy to support Australians in the challenging months ahead. They know that despite what they claim there'll be no snapback at the end of this pandemic. The latest unemployment statistics demonstrate this. Between March and April, 2.7 million people either left employment or had their hours reduced, and 26,000 of them were in the Hunter. This means that the real unemployment rate during this period was somewhere between 15 and 20 per cent. In Newcastle and Lake Macquarie the unemployment rate increased from 5.8 per cent to 7.7 per cent. Most distressingly, the youth unemployment rate is now at an official level of 18.7 per cent, which means it's well over 30 per cent in reality.
The government desperately needs to develop a jobs strategy, and JobKeeper should be a key part of it. The government must consider expanding JobKeeper to include more impacted workers, like the one million casuals who are currently missing out. The Treasurer can fix this right now with the stroke of a pen. The government must also consider extending the JobKeeper payment beyond September for those businesses and industries that need it. A sudden end to this subsidy will be disastrous for businesses that continue to be crippled by this crisis.
Unfortunately, the government has done the exact opposite when it comes to the early childhood education sector. Three days after promising that JobKeeper would continue until September for all eligible Australians, the government broke this promise when it announced it would stop paying 120,000 early childhood educators from 13 July. The free child care scheme will also end. I'm really concerned about the impact this will have. The government's free child care scheme hasn't been perfect—it's left a lot of people out—but snapping back to the old system, with high fees, will make early education and care unaffordable and inaccessible for many, particularly those suffering reduced hours or the loss of a job. As a result, some families will be forced to pull their kids out of centres, which will have a significant impact on providers.
Without JobKeeper, some of these providers may be forced to close down. What a way to say thanks to all those educators who worked throughout the pandemic to educate kids, in turn allowing some of our essential, frontline workers to do their jobs! One early childhood educator was in tears while talking to me yesterday morning.
The government must fix this. It clearly demonstrates why the government need to develop a jobs strategy. Without one, they risk botching our economic recovery, which will see more people queuing out the front of Centrelink. That is something Australia cannot afford.