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Daniel McCulloch, Katina Curtis and Rebecca Gredley
(Australian Associated Press)
Businesses and unions are putting their differences aside and donning their thinking caps as the coronavirus economic slump bites hard.
It comes as Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg confirms Australia is in recession, ending 29 years of economic growth.
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 groups are looking at issues including the definition of casual employment, enterprise agreements for major projects and simplifying awards for hard-hit industries such as hospitality.
They have been given until September to come up with a range of solutions.
“I would summarise today as a very optimistic start to the process,” Mr Porter told reporters.
Mr Porter said Labor won’t be part of the working groups after they criticised the initiative.
“We’re only interested in individuals and groups who want to engage constructively in the job growth agenda,” he said.
Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers hit back at Mr Porter, insisting Labor has been constructive.
“It shows they’re not fair dinkum about trying to find genuine common ground about the future of industrial relations,” he told reporters in Brisbane.
Treasury officials and other bureaucrats briefed the meetings on the scale of the challenge facing each sector.
Ms McManus said the union wanted to ensure workers get pay rises while their rights were protected and they get job security.
Deputy chief medical officer Paul Kelly said health officials would on Friday consider next steps beyond the stage three lifting of restrictions.
“To really nut out that risk-and-benefit equation so we can make some plans for the future,” he said.
Announcements for targeted support for construction and the arts are 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.
Mr Frydenberg said the feedback had been positive so far.
“We think, based on the consultations we’ve had with the sector, that this will be a very welcome initiative which will support new builds and will also support extra economic activity and therefore more jobs,” he told reporters in Canberra.
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.
Tasmania is set to bring forward billions of dollars of infrastructure spending to stimulate its economy amid the pandemic.
With Queensland’s border still closed the state is promoting intrastate tourism with cheap flights to the Whitsundays.
NSW has reported no new virus cases for the first time in a week, as Melbourne patients can now battle their illness from home while having their symptoms monitored remotely under a new program.
More than 7200 Australians have tested positive, with about 480 cases remaining active across the country.