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'The world has changed' - Government and unions team up in jobs quest

Politics

Business and unions are putting workplace laws under the microscope as they try to claw Australia’s economy out of the coronavirus slump.

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Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter joined union heads Sally McManus and Michele O’Neil and a range of employer groups in Sydney on Wednesday morning.

“The world has just completely changed,” Porter told the roundtable meeting.

“And I think the people around this table probably saved tens of thousands, if not considerably more jobs.”

The group has been given until September to come up with a range of solutions.

Porter acknowledged it could be an “interesting and difficult” process.

“But I think it could be very fruitful,” he said.

Porter urged everyone in the process to leave their “traditional shopping wish lists” behind.

“I am confident that if we can work cooperatively, an opportunity exists to make meaningful progress at developing solutions that will make a significant difference to how quickly we can recover from this crisis,” he said.

Wednesday’s meeting will be briefed by Treasury officials and other bureaucrats about the scale of the challenge each sector faces.

Federal cabinet is expected to consider targeted support for two sectors – construction and the arts – with announcements anticipated this week.

The Government is considering a plan for cash grants to build new homes or for major renovation projects to stimulate domestic building jobs.

Even before full details are known, it has come under fire from Labor.

The Opposition says the money would be better spent on social housing, including maintenance and upgrades to existing properties.

Meanwhile, Australia’s universities have warned the coronavirus pandemic could cost them billions of dollars over the next four years.

Border closures have locked tens of thousands of international students out of the country.

The federal government’s early move to stop people coming from China was especially damaging, with that country the largest source of international students to Australia.

New modelling by Universities Australia predicts the sector could lose $16 billion in revenue between now and 2023.

“We can’t pretend that won’t have a big impact,” chief executive Catriona Jackson said.

Health authorities continue to urge widespread testing for coronavirus as infection rates fall.

There have been 1.5 million tests done in Australia so far.

“We want our public health authorities to be following up every case, and we want our public health authorities to be able to provide that testing,” Health Minister Greg Hunt said.

More than 7200 Australians have tested positive to coronavirus, with about 480 cases remaining active across the country.

Twenty patients are in hospital, with three in intensive care and one on a ventilator.

-AAP

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