HON MATTHEW SWINBOURN (East Metropolitan) [11.25 am] — without notice: I move —

That this house notes that the trend of increasing automation is impacting people, their employment security, their opportunities and the broader society in which they live.

[Speeches and comments from various members]

HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [12.07 pm]: I thank Hon Matthew Swinbourn for bringing this motion on for discussion. It is an important motion for this chamber to discuss. The Greens want everyone to be able to enjoy the opportunities of the benefits of progress. Too often this is not happening, and the gap between the rich and the poor is getting wider. The Greens are concerned that this will be exacerbated by increased automation. I say that knowing that the evidence seems to indicate that this concern is justified. The economic bonus arising out of automation does not seem to trickle down to increased wages. It is expected that automation will make a $2.2 trillion boost to productivity in Australia between 2015 and 2030, but whether productivity gains will be redistributed equally remains highly questionable.

Since the 1970s across most Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development countries, the share of income going to wages has been decreasing and the share being reinvested into capital, cash reserves, equipment and machinery has been increasing. Clearly, when profits are being made from productivity gains, they are going to capital rather than labour, reflecting growing income inequality in general. Indeed, CEO compensation has been growing much faster than average workers’ wages. The ratio of CEOs’ average pay to workers’ average pay in large US corporations went from 20 to one in 1965 to a whopping 271 to one in 2016. These signs point to the fact that those with less bargaining power are less likely to reap the rewards of productivity gains arising from automation. A growing number of Australian and international experts are saying that we need to give workers more power to demand a pay rise in the face of increasing automation. Eminent workplace relations academic Joe Isaac has said that workers and unions need more power to address the growing problem of wages falling behind productivity growth. Slow wages growth in recent years has been associated with growing inequality in favour of high-income earners. The government must take responsibility for keeping pace with disruptive technologies and develop legislation and regulations to protect workers’ rights, including fair pay and conditions, and safety.

The predictions are that almost no matter what our role, whether we are a CEO or a cleaner, everyone will be doing their jobs differently within the next 20 years. About 40 per cent of all jobs in Australia are predicted to disappear with automation. Job growth is predicted to be strong in the caring economy, with unmet projected demand in child care, aged care, health care, disability services and education. These jobs are traditionally pretty poorly paid. I am particularly concerned about the impact on already marginalised populations, in particular older Australians and people with disability, mental health issues and those sorts of things. Thus far, we have completely failed to address the gender pay gap adequately and I am concerned that it will get worse under increased automation.

The government needs to lead the way with some very clear and detailed education, innovation and technology policies that will need to be funded adequately. We need a commitment to link education and innovation policy with funding, which is significantly lacking compared with that in other countries. We were bad in responding to the decline in car manufacturing. We need proactive policies to respond to the coming challenges. Artificial intelligence is changing the future of work and we will need to be proactive.

I will make some comments about training. Training is already shifting to accommodate the changes in industries as they become more automated. New jobs will be created and old jobs will change so significantly that effectively they will cease to exist. Certainly, the numbers will be substantially reduced. As has already been alluded to in the budget estimates hearings this year, we talked about the partnership between South Metropolitan TAFE and the resources sector to develop and provide specific training for people whose roles are affected by increasing automation. This is exactly the sort of proactive work in which our training sector should be involved. At the time, I took the opportunity to ask whether we were already forecasting which other industries would be affected by automation and preparing to train those workers. The answer at the time was that there were no plans to partner with other industries in this fashion.

The skills training councils, which form part of the apparatus that looks forward to future job growth and training needs, are in the process of undergoing a significant revamp. This is due to be completed in the middle of next year. We will need these bodies to be effective and strongly engaged with industry to ensure that the training sector gets the right information to build the right courses to prepare people for the jobs of the future. These re-skilling opportunities need to be accessible and affordable. For most people, this means that we are looking at a future of training that will need to be delivered by an effective TAFE system. We also have to be sure that the training that we deliver gives people high-level transferable skills that will form a key part of every job or career that a person might undertake over the course of their lifetime. We must also make sure that people are fluid in what they are being trained for.

Artificial intelligence will transform the way we live and work. There are already very clear indications that if we do not act, artificial intelligence is going to increase the already large gap between the richest and the poorest in our communities. Government has a very key role to play to ensure that community structures, such as the Western Australian Industrial Relations Commission and unions, are suitably resourced and supported so that all workers benefit from productivity gains from the increased use of artificial intelligence. Likewise, we need to make sure future training needs proactively meet those requirements. If we do not, we will find that the social cost for the community will be untenable.

[Speeches and comments from various members]

Motion lapsed, pursuant to standing orders.


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