Hansard ID: HANSARD-1323879322-117226
Hansard session: Fifty-Seventh Parliament, First Session (57-1)
Payroll Tax Amendment (Jobs Plus) Bill 2021
Second Reading Debate
Debate resumed from an earlier hour.
Ms GABRIELLE UPTON (Vaucluse) (15:27:47):
The Payroll Tax Amendment (Jobs Plus) Bill 2021 is an important bill allowing for time‑limited payroll tax exemptions for certain jobs that are created right here in New South Wales. It delivers on a commitment that the Government made when it announced the $250 million program last November. The bill was introduced to create or support up to 25,000 jobs to June 2022. The focus of that program and of this legislation, enabled through the payroll tax exemption, is to bring forward private sector investment and attract new investors into our State. It is critical to our COVID‑19 economic recovery strategy.
Under the leadership of the Government, New South Wales recorded impressive economic growth over the past few years before the COVID pandemic struck our State. Our swift and strong response to the impact of COVID involved a number of measures that helped contain the virus by way of health preventative measures and supported those parts of our economy where that economic support was required. It was a balance of health and economic support. We must remember, however, that through COVID the gross State product [GSP]—what gross domestic product is for the Federal Government, GSP is for the State—contracted by 0.7 per cent. That is the weakest outcome since official statistics were first published in the early 1990s. In the early months of the crisis, employment fell by more than 270,000 jobs; that is, over 6 per cent of the entire State's workforce.
That said, even with that impact, we saw some positive signs of recovery in the New South Wales Government's half‑yearly review presented late last year in this House by the Treasurer. It was through that very successful world‑beating management of the coronavirus pandemic. There were $29 billion of health and economic supports across our economy. Because of that swift, purposeful and strategic response, we could lift some of our COVID-19 restrictions earlier than in other parts of the world and enter into a recovery phase. In the 2020‑21 New South Wales budget, there was a focus on job creation; I suspect it will continue to remain a big focus of the Treasurer's budget, to be presented next month in this House. It is preparing for a stronger economy in the long term through economic and other reforms to come out of the pandemic and out of crisis, which the Government is particularly good at doing.
We know now that the economy is forecast to grow by 2.75 per cent in this financial year. The labour market has surprisingly performed better than we expected, with only a 6 per cent unemployment rate at January 2021. I understand from the comments by the jobs Minister during question time that it is now below 6 per cent, which is even more welcome, and it is projected to be reduced to 5 per cent by June 2024. Through January 2021, New South Wales has recovered over 80 per cent—that is 220,183 jobs—of the aggregate jobs lost during the peak of the pandemic. During question time the Minister updated the House about those new jobs that have been created and the restoration of jobs. Gratifyingly, more women have entered the labour force, and older workers have been encouraged by the Government's support to remain in the workforce.
There has been a move to greater part‑time employment. That is welcome because it gives flexibility to many in our community who act as carers and nurturers and do not have the capacity, or perhaps the will, to remain in full‑time employment, but want to remain in employment for many reasons—not only to be able to pay their bills, but also rejoin employment in New South Wales when those caring responsibilities fall away. There has been an amazing response by the Government to economic and health challenges. We have seen that borne out in the very early figures of reduction of unemployment; the readjustment of employment back to pre‑pandemic levels; changes in our labour practices and productivity around women coming into the workforce in a more profound way than they were before; older workers staying in the workforce; and greater flexibility about employment models, which is important for productivity in the workforce.
But we cannot be complacent, and that is why we have before the House a bill that was introduced to create more jobs and give payroll tax concessions to ensure that we bring forward the employment and investment opportunities that might not be there at the moment but that we can encourage through smart incentives. Today the Premier and Minister Ayres announced that Baxter Healthcare, which is a mature company in the health tech sector, and SpeeDx, which is an innovative company, are the first businesses to be part of the Jobs Plus Program. Baxter Healthcare is a Harvard business case study; I remember studying what it had done in the healthcare sector when I was at business school. It is the only local manufacturer of intravenous medical fluids. Through the Jobs Plus support, it will invest in a major expansion of its advanced manufacturing facility in western Sydney, supporting more than 600 existing jobs and creating approximately 80 new jobs by June 2024.
It is really important that it is based at the aerotropolis, the core of which is now called Bradfield, where the Government is taking the opportunity to build new industries, new jobs and new training. It is going to be an economic powerhouse, together with the infrastructure of the new airport, rail, road and all the kinds of things that will build our community in the west of the State and build its economic credentials.
SpeeDx, a company at Eveleigh I visited, has done remarkably well, but the Jobs Plus Program is going to give it a substantial boost. When I visited its people, they said that one challenge to growing their business was that they could not obtain many of their supplies, such as reagents they use in tests, because supply lines were cut during the pandemic. So they had taken the opportunity to pivot in an innovative way to build their own manufacturing capacity in New South Wales, in a suburb adjacent to Parliament House, taking their fate into their own hands and building our economy at the same time. I am so proud of the innovative journey they have taken.
The company started with an early grant from the Medical Devices Fund. It is one of our great exemplars of companies starting in our State, having taken advantage of various programs in the innovation pipeline such as the Medical Devices Fund, which is run by the Office of the Chief Scientist and Engineer and the Office for Health and Medical Research. It has benefited from and built on that funding. Now it has come back to us at the point where it is scaling up. The company is tapping into the Jobs Plus Program to grow jobs and its advanced manufacturing capacity. Seeing this State support businesses from "soup to nuts" is so gratifying. We want to see more of that. That is part of the reason why I am working with Minister Ayres and the Premier on the research and development strategy in New South Wales.
Other aspects of the Jobs Plus Program include a concierge service—which Minister Ayres touched on in the House during question time—subsidised training, package rebates and infrastructure rebates. There is subsidised short‑term access to government‑owned accommodation for companies. From talking to start-ups and scale-ups, I know that they want a first customer—which is very good if it is the State Government in procurement—they want capital and space and skills. So that benefit of the Jobs Plus Program, making available subsidised short‑term government accommodation from our vast portfolio of property, will be so welcomed by those companies that are seeking to build employment in our State. Another fantastic asset of this program is assistance with planning approval. Criticism is often made that our approval process can be a little too slow and at times lacking in transparency. Under our planning Minister, Rob Stokes, the process has gone ahead in leaps, but in relation to creating new jobs in manufacturing this fast‑track approval process is welcome as well.
The bill contains a welcome package that will turbocharge our economy in New South Wales and provide opportunities to businesses that they may not have had prior to the pandemic. The State Government has become even more purposeful in its economic supports of innovation than perhaps it was before the pandemic. I back this bill. Baxter Healthcare and SpeeDx are showing the difference that investment in and support of innovation in the economy can make to job creation and to the emergence of new industries in New South Wales. As the State Government, we pride ourselves on doing that, and we are doing that through this bill. I support the bill before the House.
Mr PETER SIDGREAVES (Camden) (15:38:12):
I support the Payroll Tax Amendment (Jobs Plus) Bill 2021 and thank the Premier and the Treasurer for prioritising New South Wales citizens' health while building resilience into the New South Wales economy. It is around one year since New South Wales first eased restrictions on public gatherings. Social distancing rules became the norm, and the New South Wales Government had listed just 16 reasons for people to leave their places of residence. In one year we have come a long way. Successful management of the virus has allowed mobility restrictions to be eased much more quickly than had been expected.
In the 2020-21 budget the Government made a conscious decision to put people's health and the economy first. The Government made a commitment to build on its health and economic responses and successes. The bill reflects that commitment to keeping people safe and to creating the jobs needed to move forward, firstly, by supporting the economy and shifting the approach to one of focusing on creating jobs for the future and, secondly, by continuing to direct efforts to safeguard the health of the community.
The impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic and the measures needed to suppress the spread of the virus have had a significant impact on the New South Wales economy. In the early stages of the pandemic employment fell by more than 270,000, which is over 5 per cent of the entire State's workforce. The State's initial recovery from the impact of COVID‑19 has far exceeded expectations. At the time of the 2020-21 half-yearly review the economy was on track to recover to pre‑COVID levels, six months sooner than expected, and economic growth was forecast to improve to 2.75 per cent by 2023‑24. There needs to be continued support for businesses and jobs to ensure that robust economic conditions are in place when the COVID-19 pandemic passes.
The Jobs Plus Program, supported by the exemptions to payroll tax that are contained in the bill, will drive job creation in the non-government sector. That is critical to a successful COVID-19 recovery strategy. The $250 million Jobs Plus Program will stimulate and strengthen the New South Wales economy by creating or supporting up to 25,000 new jobs. The program is designed to support companies that want to expand their footprints or relocate to New South Wales. It clearly signals that New South Wales is backing private and non‑government companies that are seeking to invest in job‑creating projects, proposals and partnerships by supporting them throughout the critical stages of business development.
The Jobs Plus Program will boost new jobs by offering various financial supports and the payroll tax exemptions that are provided in this bill. The bill will support the program by amending the Payroll Tax Act 2007 to exempt from payroll tax for up to four years the wages of positions identified in Jobs Plus agreements. Published program guidelines outline for businesses the eligibility criteria to access this assistance. Payroll tax relief will be provided for up to four years to eligible businesses for positions identified in approved Jobs Plus agreements. To gain access to these exemptions, businesses will be required to create at least 30 new jobs, initiated before 20 June 2022 and completed by 30 June 2024. Payroll tax exemptions under the Jobs Plus Program will support the delivery of new jobs from the time the first agreements are signed until 30 June 2028.
All businesses entering into the Jobs Plus Program will be subject to the terms specified by their agreements. The agreements will include the commitment of the businesses, the benefits to be provided by the Government, a process for reviewing progress against milestones and rectifying any problems with performance, and the grounds or circumstances in which payroll tax exemptions may be revoked if necessary. If a business is not delivering on its commitments, the Minister for Jobs, Investment, Tourism and Western Sydney can issue a written notice which may revoke the payroll tax exemptions for a business. If a revocation notice is issued, the payroll tax exemption will be revoked as if the wages identified in the agreement had never been exempt and the Chief Commissioner of State Revenue will issue an assessment or reassessment to the business.
By enticing top‑performing companies from interstate and across the globe to participate in the Jobs Plus Program, we will ensure that New South Wales remains the best place to do business in Australia. The changes in this bill will continue to support existing jobs and drive job creation. Job creation is critical as we push the agenda to reopen our economy, sending a clear message that New South Wales remains the economic powerhouse of Australia, even through a pandemic. The New South Wales Government is creating and supporting jobs for the future to build long-term economic prosperity as we deliver a better quality of life for current and future generations of our State. This is especially true for the Camden electorate, whose members are either in or on the doorstep of the aerotropolis.
The bill will continue to support the Government's efforts in providing quality care for our older citizens by facilitating the third Commonwealth retention bonus for aged‑care workers. The Commonwealth, through its Aged Care Workforce Retention Grant Opportunity, has provided three bonus payment rounds to eligible employers of aged‑care workers in residential and home care settings. The payments are to be passed on to eligible workers as bonus wages, to assist in the retention of this workforce and to keep them caring for Australia's vulnerable elderly citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic. Payments to successful applicants were based on average weekly hours worked by eligible employees and were pro-rataed according to hours worked so that employees who worked more than 30 hours per week received the full amount and those who worked less than three hours per week did not receive any amount.
The bill extends the payroll tax exemption passed by Parliament on 5 August 2020 for the first two rounds of bonus payments by removing the final date for eligible bonus payments. The bill will exempt the bonus wages paid under the third round of the program, and any additional future round, from New South Wales payroll tax. That will ensure participating employers are not subject to payroll tax if they pass the third round of retention bonuses to workers. It will also encourage employers to participate in the program in the future if there are additional rounds. The removal of the barrier for participating in the third round may assist employers to retain or increase employment levels and will support the workforce continuity objective of the program, thereby investing in the provision of quality aged care for older Australians. The exemption may also encourage uptake of the grant for any additional round, benefiting employees with additional wages.
During the COVID-19 pandemic the New South Wales Government made a conscious decision to put people's health and the economy before the 2020-21 New South Wales budget through a number of programs. The New South Wales Government brought forward an increase in the payroll tax threshold to $1.2 million and also cut the payroll tax rate from 5.45 per cent to 4.85 per cent for two years. The New South Wales Government is now continuing this by introducing the Jobs Plus Program and the aged care retention bonus payroll tax exemption. I commend the bill to the House.
Mr NATHANIEL SMITH (Wollondilly) (15:47:07):
Payroll tax is an extremely important issue, especially in my electorate of Wollondilly and in the Southern Highlands. The member for Canterbury keeps teasing that she is going to come down and spend her Dine & Discover vouchers in our community and help regional businesses in the beautiful Southern Highlands. I know the Minister for Water, Property and Housing had a great time not long ago in beautiful Bowral—my town. The Payroll Tax Amendment (Jobs Plus) Bill 2021 will amend legislation to provide payroll tax exemptions for jobs specified by the Jobs Plus Program for up to four years.
The bill will also exempt from payroll tax further retention bonus payments for aged‑care workers who are funded from a Commonwealth Government grant program. That is particularly important in my electorate of Wollondilly, especially in the Wingecarribee local government area where 40 per cent of the population is over 65 years of age—aged care is a critical industry in my electorate. This will remove the tax liability for employers who have participated in the third tranche of the program and the disincentive under any future announced tranche for employers to apply for and pass on those payments to workers.
Under the Jobs Plus Program there are payroll tax exemptions for certain positions. Businesses are eligible to apply for the Jobs Plus Program if they achieve the threshold of increasing their net number of full‑time equivalent employees before 30 June 2022 and by at least 30 new full-time equivalent employees by June 2024; or if they are a revenue-generating business and have at least 20 full-time equivalent employees for Australian Business Number [ABN] registered businesses or up to 100 full-time equivalent employees for foreign-owned entities. The Jobs Plus Program will help to stimulate economic activity and jobs by supporting businesses that want to enter or expand their footprint in New South Wales. An example of that relates to a different fund—the New South Wales Regional Job Creation Fund, to which the Government committed $100 million to create at least 5,000 jobs in regional areas of New South Wales.
I am happy to announce that a business that came and saw me last year, XCEM, which creates a unique product of high-strength, lightweight fire-resistant fibreglass panels for residential and commercial buildings, is getting absolutely hammered by business and cannot keep up with demand. Currently it has 18 employees but this $3.9 million investment from the fund will create 235 jobs. It is a small business that will expand rapidly and provide high-strength, fire-resistant panels which will revolutionise the construction industry, especially in apartment buildings. As someone who has come from the construction industry, I know that square metres are very important inside units and these panels will reduce cavity space. Importantly, they are fire resistant—we have seen what has happened with flammable cladding and other things in the past—and sound resistant. It is a great new product and I am happy that the business was able to get this funding of $3.9 million to expand and employ up to 235 employees in the Southern Highlands. That is great news for the area and great news for the construction industry.
In relation to payroll tax exemption for the third and any future retention bonus payments for eligible aged‑care workers funded from a Commonwealth grant program, in late August 2020 the Commonwealth Government announced a third tranche of the Aged Care Workforce Retention Grant Opportunity program. The program provides funding for aged care retention bonus payments for eligible workers providing services in residential and home care settings to incentivise the continuity of this workforce during the pandemic. The pandemic hit aged care hard, especially in the regions. The funding is provided to aged‑care employers to pass on to those workers as wages, with the first tranche made around July 2020, the second around September 2020 and the third around January 2021.
In August 2020 an exemption from payroll tax was provided for wages paid to aged‑care workers from bonus payments received by employers under the grant program before 1 January 2021. That has the effect of only exempting wages paid under the first two tranches. The proposed reforms being put forward for Jobs Plus payroll tax exemptions would apply to identified positions for the period agreed in the Jobs Plus agreement, up to a maximum of four years. The exemption may be revoked by the Minister for Jobs, Investment, Tourism and Western Sydney in circumstances that will be identified in the agreement.
In respect of the Commonwealth's aged care retention bonus payments, the bill provides an exemption from payroll tax for wages paid or payable under the third tranche and any future announced tranche of the program. The bill therefore extends the exemption provided for the first two tranches in 2020 by removing the current exemption end date of 1 January 2021. Only a couple of weeks ago I was at a function with the Treasurer. One of the guests at the function employs up to 3,000 people just in New South Wales and he was paying up to $430,000-odd a month in payroll tax. I congratulate him because during COVID he kept all those people employed. I was impressed by that because the amount he was paying per month was incredible.
In relation to stakeholder management, the Treasurer and the Minister for western Sydney are talking to business owners, especially of small business. Companies in my region operate differently from those in metropolitan Sydney. The bill will help businesses that have lots of tradies, small and medium‑sized businesses and construction businesses in the Wollondilly electorate. One advantage in regional areas is that many of those companies set up and run their operations from home. Obviously the impost of the cost of having large factories in western Sydney is something that would be tough for them. So a lot of those operations are coming out of Wollondilly.
I believe the study found at least 70 per cent of those in Wollondilly leave the area each day to go to work around Sydney and western Sydney. In respect of stakeholder management, the applications for support under the Jobs Plus Program opened on 15 December 2020 and it will close when the support is fully allocated, or on 30 June 2022. Investment NSW will work with proponents to access the received applications. We are going out there, we are consulting with the community, we are consulting with the business community. I commend the bill to the House.
Mr MARK COURE (Oatley) (15:55:23):
I wholeheartedly support the Government's Payroll Tax Amendment (Jobs Plus) Bill 2021. As established, this bill allows for time-limited payroll tax exemptions for certain specified Jobs Plus positions and for exemption of further Federal Government retention bonus payments for aged-care workers. In essence, it will amend legislation to provide payroll tax exemptions for jobs specified by the Jobs Plus Program for up to four years. The bill will also exempt from payroll tax further retention bonus payments for aged-care workers that are funded from the Commonwealth grants program. This will remove the tax liability for employers that have participated in the third tranche of the program. It will also remove a disincentive under any future announced tranche for employers to apply for and pass on these payments to workers. I see that the member for Terrigal also supports the bill through his interjections.
Mr Adam Crouch:
Mr MARK COURE:
In practice, this bill means more encouragement for employers to participate and more money in the pockets of workers. It is yet another example of how the New South Wales Government is fighting the economic challenge presented by COVID-19 through sensible and adaptable economic financial management. There can be no doubt that New South Wales is leading the nation in our economic recovery.
Mrs Melinda Pavey:
Mr MARK COURE:
I note the interjection from the outstanding Minister for Water, Property and Housing. The Jobs Plus Program will also help to stimulate economic activity, economic growth and jobs by supporting businesses who want to enter into or expand their footprint in New South Wales. This is a particularly important issue to which all members of this House need to pay attention—the payroll tax rate reduction and the increase to the threshold for the 2020 and 2021 period. The New South Wales Government has announced a reduction in the payroll tax rate to 4.85 per cent for the 2021 period and the 2021-22 financial year. The threshold has also increased to $1.2 million for the same period—2020-21. If we look back in time for the past couple of years we find that this follows previous increases in the threshold since 2017-2018, which started at $750,000. We have come a long way from 2017 to 2022, which will be $1.2 million. The member for Terrigal is nodding his head in agreement. It is estimated that around 8,500 businesses that would have paid payroll tax will now be exempt as the threshold has increased to $1.2 million. I see the nods from Government MPs and one Opposition MP is also nodding.
Ms Sophie Cotsis:
No, I am not nodding.
Mr MARK COURE:
You are nodding for this one.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER:
The member for Oatley will come to order.
Mr MARK COURE:
It is worth repeating: Under these changes it is estimated that around 8,500 businesses who would have paid payroll tax are now exempt for the first time since 2017. As members know, I have met with many businesses in my electorate—some would say maybe all of them, being the outstanding campaigner that I am.
Mr Adam Crouch:
Point of order—
Mr MARK COURE:
I am being honest; I cannot mislead the House. One of the major things that people bring up time and again is payroll tax. If you are one of the 8,500 businesses now not paying payroll tax but you were before say, 2017, or under the previous Labor Government, that is money that is going back into employing more people. Am I right? Now, I do not understand payroll tax. I do not understand why we have it as a State.
Ms Melanie Gibbons:
That is why you are not the Treasurer.
Mr MARK COURE:
That is why I am not the Treasurer, thank you.
Ms Sophie Cotsis:
The Treasurer is listening, even though he is in the dollhouse, in the rumpus room.
Mr MARK COURE:
The member for Canterbury should remain silent; it is my turn.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER:
Mr MARK COURE:
But the good thing is that this Government is listening. A number of times it has raised the threshold to ensure fewer businesses are paying payroll tax. I have spoken to a childcare centre operator who lives in my electorate. He has three or four childcare centres not just in my area but right across Sydney. He mentioned to me only the other day that he is paying over $10,000, I think it is twice a year, in payroll tax. That is $20,000 in payroll tax each and every year. That could fund someone to be employed part-time in any one of his three or four centres across Sydney. I have also spoken to many other businesses. A cabinet-making factory in my electorate was paying over a five-year period $30,000 to $40,000 in payroll tax. Another business was paying a whopping payroll tax bill of $64,000. That could employ at least one person.
So hats off to the Treasurer. By increasing the threshold to $1.2 million—as I have mentioned a number of times already in the past few minutes—there are now 8,500 extra businesses that would have paid and are now not paying payroll tax. Historically this Government has always been the Government to encourage business and enterprise. We have always been the party encouraging innovation and giving businesses that step up, that confidence to grow. This bill continues that mission. The bill will also administer a payroll tax exemption for the third and any future retention bonus payments for aged-care workers funded under the Commonwealth grant program.
In late August 2020, the Commonwealth Government announced a third tranche of the Aged Care Workforce Retention Grant Opportunity program. That program provides funding for aged care retention bonus payments for workers providing services in residential and home care settings to incentivise the continuing of this workforce during this pandemic. The funding is also provided to aged-care employers to pass on to these workers as wages, with the first tranche made around July 2020, the second around September 2020 and the third around January 2021. In August 2020 an exemption from payroll tax was provided for wages paid to aged-care workers from bonus payments received by employers under the grant program before 1 January 2021. This has the effect of only exempting wages paid under the first two tranches.
Finally, I am also satisfied this bill has been subject to extensive stakeholder management. I am advised applications for support under the Jobs Plus Program opened in December 2020 and will close when the support is fully allocated, or on 30 June 2022, whichever comes first. Investment NSW will work with proponents to assess received applications. In summary, this bill will go a long way towards creating economic growth across New South Wales. In light of this, there can be no doubt the Payroll Tax Amendment (Jobs Plus) Bill 2021 is to the benefit of our State's employers and workers. I commend this bill and recommend that this House approves its introduction to Parliament.
Mr ADAM CROUCH (Terrigal) (16:04:22):
I speak on behalf of the Government in support of the Payroll Tax Amendment (Jobs Plus) Bill 2021. From the outset I acknowledge the excellent contributions from other members of this House—the member for Holsworthy, the member for Miranda, the member for Albury, the member for Vaucluse, the member for Camden, who I think is still in the Chamber, the member for Wollondilly and the member for Oatley, who gave a Churchillian speech about the benefits of the payroll tax amendment bill to the businesses in his electorate of Oatley. It would be remiss of me if I did not also highlight the great work that is being done during this COVID-19 pandemic in regions. The Central Coast is a rapidly growing region and businesses from one end of the Central Coast to the other have been benefiting from the Government's good, solid fiscal management when it comes to working our way through the COVID-19 pandemic.
I was lucky enough, not that long ago, to host the Premier on the Central Coast and the feedback that was given to her was, firstly, "Thank you." Secondly, businesses were delighted with the way in which the Government had been able to pivot and make the necessary adjustments to ensure that businesses stay open. Regions have been some of the beneficiaries of this where we have seen increased population growth, especially on the Central Coast. Obviously not only is it the best place to live, work and play but also it is only an hour and 20 minutes from the Sydney CBD.
We have businesses on the Central Coast who are having solid business turnover at the moment. We also saw the businesses pivoting at this crucial time during COVID-19; we saw businesses adapting. That is what business does; it adapts and adjusts. We have a government that matches those same processes. What we have seen is a solid base for business to keep reinvesting, keep going and keep making decisions that support the growth of business but also ensure that we are providing jobs and opportunities for people from one end of the Central Coast to the other. The member for Keira has just returned to the Chamber. He is also a regional member and we have seen strong support for our communities for local business during this whole COVID-19 pandemic. We have seen young people jump into the workforce, possibly earlier than they would have predicted, but they are enjoying it. They are contributing to the economy and contributing to their own sustainability and wellbeing. This Government is absolutely focused on creating and sustaining those high-value jobs well and truly in the future.
As a regional member yourself, Madam Deputy Speaker, you have seen your community adjust. You have seen businesses make the necessary decisions, at short notice, to ensure their survivability. But now we are seeing them prospering and growing. I was also lucky enough to visit Madam Deputy Speaker's electorate and see how the businesses there have dealt so well with the COVID-19 pandemic. Like the support for businesses on the Central Coast, the community of Port Macquarie has rallied behind its local businesses. Port Macquarie has outstanding businesses and outstanding restaurants and cafes. The Stunned Mullet has to be one of my particular favourites. As a business, it has a COVID plan, kept its patrons safe, kept its staff safe and it is prospering. It is not only a great restaurant but also a great business, looking after both its patrons and its staff. We have seen the same initiatives being rolled out across the Central Coast.
The recovery of the New South Wales jobs market has been extraordinary, to say the least, and unprecedented. In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, New South Wales employment fell by more than 270,000 jobs. That is 270,000 people who suddenly found themselves out of work—over 6 per cent of the New South Wales workforce. Now we fast-forward and see that New South Wales has recovered almost all of those jobs lost during the peak of the pandemic. We are now back around a pre-COVID level of employment, which is great news for businesses of all sizes—small, medium and large. The New South Wales unemployment rate has also declined in recent months, falling by 0.3 of a percentage point to 5.4 per cent in March 2021. That is the second lowest among the States and Territories. That is well below the 7.2 per cent peak seen in July last year and is around 8 percentage points higher than it was in February 2020 before the COVID pandemic changed the world.
Of course there is more work to be done to ensure that we support businesses to create jobs now and for future generations. The Jobs Plus Program was announced by the Government in October 2020 and was widely applauded by the business chambers on the Central Coast. These business chambers represent businesses of all sizes and they were the first out of the blocks to commend the Government for this great initiative. I highlight the great work done by the Treasurer and the rest of the team to ensure that the program helped to stimulate the economy and support the creation of new jobs during difficult times. It will entice existing New South Wales businesses to look for job-creating opportunities and attract top-performing businesses from interstate and overseas to come to New South Wales.
Providing payroll tax exemptions for a period of up to four years for every new job created will reduce the tax liabilities for businesses investing in the people of our State. As we heard from the member for Oatley, these exemptions are people's wages. What this allows these businesses to do is to take on other employees, to take on an apprentice and to benefit and grow their business in a sustainable and solid way. This will encourage businesses to keep people in their roles for longer and will have a flow-on impact on income, spending and the economy of the State and our regions more broadly.
The aim is to support up to 25,000 new jobs by June 2024. It is an ambitious target but this Government is up to the task. We have seen how we have managed this COVID crisis and, as the Premier said, there was no structure manual going into this. We have seen a fiscally responsible and mature Government doing the right thing to keep its residents safe and to keep the economy moving. One cannot close down business and then suddenly kickstart it and expect it to pick up overnight. That is where New South Wales has fared exceptionally well because of the responsible, mature way in which the Government has dealt with this. The payroll tax exemptions in this bill for Jobs Plus agreements are only one form of assistance that the Government is proposing to offer through the program.
Under the Jobs Plus Program, successful applicants can also access assistance to the New South Wales planning system, including fast-tracked planning approval pathways and advice to increase speed to market. We are seeing that playing out on the Central Coast. There are cranes in the sky and there are jobs in construction from one end of the Central Coast to the other. Whether it be the 243 safe and affordable housing projects that are being delivered or residential housing or upgrades—a brand new school at Porters Creek that had an accelerated planning system—we are seeing tradies, apprentices and businesses flourish on the Central Coast because of this sort of stimulus.
Subsidised training programs in order to build specialised skills are aimed at sustaining these new jobs in the future—this includes funding to deliver specialised skills training which can also be accessed by the wider New South Wales community—providing and enabling infrastructure such as building local roads, providing access to utilities and futureproofing digital infrastructure. Again we are seeing these sorts of projects rolling out across the Central Coast, especially investment in local roads and access to utilities. The increase in digital technology being utilised in regions like the Central Coast and others gives people the flexibility to work confidently from home and travel to Sydney only a couple of days a week. This was not something that was the norm but we are now seeing it as the way in which people do business. If they do have to travel to Sydney, it is in a minimal way. What they are doing is getting better quality time with their families and their loved ones at the beginning of each day while not having to commute. Rolling out that digital infrastructure is key and essential, especially in the regions, to make sure we continue this growth in sustainable jobs.
Extension of time
Access to a jobs concierge service to help businesses efficiently navigate and access government agencies and programs might not sound like a lot but when you are busy running a business and you can pick up the phone and work through with another person on the line, either face-to-face or one-on-one, it makes navigating these sorts of issues so much easier. We have seen exactly the same sort of process at our outstanding Service NSW facilities right across New South Wales and including the Central Coast. I seek a brief extension of time. 
I thank members for their indulgence. Accessing short‑term free or subsidised government spaces and accommodation is also part of the Jobs Plus plan. The program stands to be a true game changer for New South Wales jobs and the payroll tax exemptions in this bill are a key element in that strategy. The bill will also help retain aged‑care workers, as we have heard earlier from other members, at a time when older Australians require a high level of quality care and support. The Commonwealth Aged Care Workforce Retention Grant Opportunity has provided funding for aged‑care providers to make a third retention bonus wage payment to their aged‑care staff, and rightfully so. The Parliament has already exempted two earlier rounds of payments from payroll tax last year. This payment round should be treated the same way.
The bill extends the previously legislated payroll tax exemption by removing the final exemption date of 1 January 2021, as it rightly should. The change will allow the existing exemption to apply to the payments made to staff in the beginning of this year. There will also be no need to make further amendments to cater for any future such payments that arise under the Commonwealth program. I commend those people who have spoken before me on this bill. We have heard firsthand stories of businesses and how they will benefit from these savings with regard to the liabilities of payroll tax. In addition, we have rebates with regard to apprentice and trainee wages. All wages, including superannuation allowances and fringe benefits, paid to apprentices and trainees are liable for payroll tax and must be included in payroll tax returns.
Employers can claim a payroll tax rebate on wages paid to appropriate apprentices and new entrant trainees who are recognised by Training Services NSW. While the changes in the thresholds may not seem like much on paper, they equate to millions of dollars back in businesses' pockets to ensure that they keep employing people. They have kept these businesses' heads above water during what could unarguably be the toughest time they have ever faced. Again, I congratulate the Treasurer and his team. I also congratulate Minister Ayres, who has carriage of the bill in the Chamber today. This is all about the Government continuing to support small, medium and large businesses right across New South Wales. We know firsthand that this initiative has not just helped support and keep businesses running on the Central Coast; it has allowed them to grow, expand and employ more people, including younger people on the Central Coast, who may have been struggling for that job. Again, this is a fantastic initiative. With that, I commend the bill to the House.
Mr STUART AYRES (PenrithMinister for Jobs, Investment, Tourism and Western Sydney) (16:17:34):
— On behalf of Mr Dominic Perrottet: In reply: I acknowledge the contributions of the following members: the member for Keira, who led for the Opposition and proposed a number of amendments that I will address—our position on those is largely supportive based on where we have landed—the member for Holsworthy; the member for Canterbury; the member for Miranda; the member for Balmain, and I will also address some concerns that he raised in his remarks; the member for Albury; the member for Summer Hill; the member for Vaucluse; the member for Camden; the member for Wollondilly; the member for Oatley and the member for Terrigal. I thank them for their contributions to debate on the Payroll Tax Amendment (Jobs Plus) Bill, which is an incredibly important bill before the House.
The bill demonstrates the Government's commitment to keeping our people safe and supporting the creation of new jobs that will keep New South Wales moving forward, particularly in the post‑COVID environment. The Jobs Plus Program, announced in the 2020‑21 budget, attracts top‑performing companies from interstate and across the globe, as well as existing businesses here, to grow their opportunities in New South Wales and sets up New South Wales for a dynamic recovery from the impacts of COVID. The bill also supports the efforts to keep our most vulnerable members of the community safe by supporting the retention of aged‑care staff. It achieves these outcomes by providing payroll tax exemptions to support investments in job‑creating projects and employers inside the aged‑care sector.
I take this opportunity to acknowledge the amendments proposed by the Opposition and indicate that the Government is supportive of those amendments. Primarily the amendments do two things. First, they reduce the minimum number of jobs an employer must create when accessing the Jobs Plus Program outside metropolitan Sydney. Secondly, they include reporting to Parliament about the number of jobs and amount of payroll tax exemptions created under the Jobs Plus Program. The Government considers both amendments to be reasonable and therefore accepts them. They also recognise supporting job creation in regional New South Wales and the challenge around creating jobs and being able to access this program. Having a lower threshold would allow more small and medium enterprises in regional New South Wales to access the program, bearing in mind that all the oversight, guidelines and criteria in place under which the jobs scheme will be assessed will continue to apply.
We also support the provision of information to the Parliament about the payroll tax commitments under the program. The Government supports introducing a requirement for annual reporting on job creation and payroll tax exemptions under the program until the expiry of payroll tax exemptions, which will take place on 1 July 2028 at the latest. At the same time, we also need to respect and treat individual company information sensitively, bearing in mind that we continue to operate in a highly competitive and commercially sensitive environment. I think the amendments proposed by the Opposition, with the Government's support in the structure of bill, provide the right balance. Because of that, we are instead proposing that the information sought by the Opposition be reported across an aggregated period by all employers in the program. We believe this will provide the Parliament with an ongoing reporting arrangement to enable transparency of spending under the program.
While The Greens did not propose any amendments formally, the member for Balmain raised some concerns in his remarks. I will address those by saying that a rigorous assessment process takes place for Jobs Plus applications. The creation of Investment NSW, located in the central Department of Premier and Cabinet agency, is equipped with a highly skilled professional team to assess these applications. The guidelines are published publicly and transparently and are available to everyone. The assessment around how these applications take place is considered seriously and also has appropriate Cabinet oversight. I reference the Cabinet oversight to put the mind of the member for Balmain at ease about the perception that an individual Minister could make a determination about a Jobs Plus allocation without having an appropriate level of oversight by the Cabinet.
I also think The Greens referenced the idea of supporting jobs in regional New South Wales. We have already indicated that we will support the Opposition's amendments to reduce the threshold from 30 to 20 for businesses with headquarters outside metropolitan Sydney. I have also indicated that the guidelines are publicly available through the Service NSW website. They continue to be used quite regularly by businesses. At this point in time applications, with 5,000 prospective jobs, are attached to those. This program will continue to run over the course of the next 12 months and take applications with jobs to be started by 30 June 2024 at the latest. The bill will help drive economic recovery by supporting and creating new jobs through our $250 million Jobs Plus Program.
Jobs Plus is being delivered through Investment NSW, a new and exciting central government agency created to leverage our successful COVID‑19 response by consolidating and leading investment attraction and economic development activity across the State. As a one‑stop‑shop for private sector engagement with the New South Wales Government, the agency is tasked with driving investment and jobs, boosting tourism and international education, and fostering our world‑leading research and development innovation ecosystems. The New South Wales Government is committed to supporting the jobs of the future by laying the foundations to build world‑class industries supported by physical and digital infrastructure. The Jobs Plus Program is a central part of our offering to local, interstate and global businesses, and sends a clear statement to the private sector that New South Wales is the best place to invest and grow their business. Whilst we are saying there is no wrong door for coming to the New South Wales Government, this is about making it incredibly clear to industry that there is a very clear front door and an "Investment NSW" plate sits on top of the door.
The program has committed to strengthening our economy through the creation or support of up to 25,000 jobs by June 2024 by helping businesses that wish to establish or expand in New South Wales through the critical stages of business development. I understand it is the first of its kind. It provides support including payroll tax relief for newly created jobs, fast-tracked planning approvals and advice through our one-stop Jobs Plus Concierge service, subsidised training programs across specialised skills and access to free or subsidised government spaces and accommodation where appropriate.
For those businesses looking to scale up and grow in New South Wales, the support reduces the cost of establishment and the financial risk as well as increasing their speed to market. Program guidelines outline clear criteria for access to this support. The payroll tax exemption will apply only to new staff who live and are paid in New South Wales. The bill will support the program by amending the Payroll Tax Act 2007 to exempt the wages of identified positions from payroll tax. Payroll tax relief will be provided to eligible businesses for every new job created where a business has created at least 30 new jobs—20 in regional New South Wales after the Opposition amendment—and will be available to businesses in the form of a payroll tax exemption for positions identified and approved through the Jobs Plus agreements. The relief will be available for up to four years for each new full‑time equivalent job established before 30 June 2024.
All businesses that enter into the Jobs Plus program will be subject to terms specified by their agreement, including the grounds and circumstances in which their exemption may be revoked. As the Minister for Jobs, Investment, Tourism and Western Sydney, I will monitor how those businesses are meeting their milestones and engage with any that are not delivering on their agreed commitments. If required, I can escalate through written notice to revoke payroll tax exemptions and if issued the exemption will be revoked as if the identified positions were never exempt, while the Chief Commissioner of Revenue will issue an assessment or reassessment of that business. That is an important recognition of some of the concerns that the member for Balmain raised, not just about transparency and the clear oversight of the allocation of the funds in the initial stage but also recognising that there is ongoing oversight of businesses that are receiving this support.
Support for the bill will enable us to continue in our pursuit of putting New South Wales at the centre of supporting investment and creating jobs, as the best place to do business in Australia in the post-COVID world. This is a game changer for us in this State. It is about taking a proactive position to say we that are not just open for business but also are here to help and support. It is good to see that the Opposition is supporting the bill, with its proposed amendments. We all recognise the devastating impact COVID has had on our economy. We have seen a very strong economic recovery but we want to make sure that we continue to take full advantage of the strength with which our State has fought off COVID. This is a good example of bipartisan support that puts jobs at the centre of our economy and keeps putting people first. I largely think it is what the people of this State have elected us to do.
We want to make sure New South Wales is the number one economy in the country. We want to make it the best place to do business. We want to make it the most attractive place to invest capital. We want it to be the place where someone can start their business, grow their business and scale up their business. We want it to be at the leading edge of research and development. We want to change the shape and nature of our economy to have more jobs in science, technology, engineering and maths. We want those jobs to be more sustainable and we want our economy to continue to lead the nation when it comes to the direction that Australia takes. The bill achieves that and definitely sets out an opportunity for New South Wales to really be proactive in the investment attraction space.
I also reference a second section of the bill, which relates to the Aged Care Workforce Retention Bonus exemption. The bill also supports older Australians in aged care by removing the payroll tax liability on Commonwealth‑funded bonus wages paid to aged-care workers. The Commonwealth funded two rounds of retention bonuses for aged-care workers in 2020. Each round consisted of two types of payments of up to $800 for residential care workers and up to $600 for home care workers on pro rata amounts. On 5 August 2020 this Parliament passed amendments to the Payroll Tax Act 2007 to exempt wages funded from those two bonus payment rounds, paid between July and September 2020 and announced when the program was introduced in June 2020. The original amendments specifically exempted bonus wages paid or payable before 1 January 2021. On 31 August 2020 the Commonwealth announced an extension to the aged-care workforce retention grant program to fund a third payment round. The payment was available to be passed on to workers from January 2021. The bill ensures that wages paid from the third round or any future round under the program will be exempt from payroll tax by removing the effective end date of 1 January 2021.
The Commonwealth program incentivises aged-care workers to continue to provide frontline care to the elderly, who are the most vulnerable to COVID-19. By supporting the continuity of the workforce during this critical time, the New South Wales Government will assist in ensuring that older citizens are protected from the virus and continue to receive high-quality care. The bill supports older Australians and also supports job creation here in New South Wales. It looks to build on the State's incredible response to the COVID-19 pandemic not by looking backwards but by strongly looking forwards.
I thank the Treasurer, who is indisposed today because of his own brush with the COVID restrictions, for his leadership in this space. It has been a genuine pleasure working with a Treasurer who has been so committed to making sure that the New South Wales economy not only rebounds well from COVID but also looks brightly to the future. We know we have to keep reforming and evolving our economy. We know we need to keep opening the door to foreign direct investment into the State. We know we have to keep incentivising business investment for businesses that are already here and we know we have to create an environment that allows the risk-takers to set up and start new businesses. The Jobs Plus program does all of those things, and it does so with the full support of the New South Wales Government and the leadership of both the Treasurer and me in this particular role. I commend the bill to the House.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER:
The question is that this bill be now read a second time.
Motion agreed to.
Consideration in detail requested by Mr Ryan Park.
Consideration in Detail
The DEPUTY SPEAKER:
By leave: I shall propose the bill in one group of clauses and schedules. The question is that clauses 1 and 2, and schedule 1 be agreed to.
Mr RYAN PARK:
By leave: I move Opposition amendments Nos 1 to 3 on sheet c2021-024F in globo:
Jobs Plus agreements
Page 3, Schedule 1, proposed section 66F(2)(b), line 16. Omit "section.". Insert instead—
(c)for an agreement with an employer whose registered business address is outside the metropolitan area—that the exemption cannot be revoked merely because the employer has only created between 20 and 29 new jobs (inclusive).
Page 4, Schedule 1. Insert after line 12—
(10A)The relevant Minister must, until 1 July 2028, cause to be tabled in each House of Parliament an annual report containing the following for each financial year—
(a)the total number of employers who entered into a Jobs Plus agreements,
(b)the total number of new jobs the employers agreed to create, as specified by the agreements,
(c)the total number of new jobs in fact created by the employers,
(d)the total amount of payroll tax from which the employers was exempt under this section.
Jobs Plus agreements and reports
Page 4, Schedule 1, proposed section 66F(11). Insert after line 21—
Greater Sydney Commission Act 2015
(a)the Greater Sydney Region within the meaning of the , and
(b)the local government areas of Newcastle, Shellharbour and Wollongong.
, in relation to an employer who enters into a Jobs Plus agreement, means a position created by the employer after entering into the agreement.
My colleague wants to make a brief contribution on amendments Nos 1 and 2.
Ms YASMIN CATLEY (Swansea) (16:32:53):
I support the amendments put forward by Labor. It is certainly the case that those amendments, particularly relating to the reduction in the threshold from 30 to 20 jobs supporting rural and regional communities, are very sensible. It is disappointing that members opposite had not considered that themselves. Being a regional MP, I was very pleased to see shadow Treasurer the Hon. Walt Secord and the shadow Minister for Finance and Small Business bring the amendments to this debate. It is also pleasing to see that the Government has supported them.
Ms Sophie Cotsis:
Ms YASMIN CATLEY:
I know that the member for Canterbury is in agreement with me on this. In regional areas, jobs are critical. We hear Government members gloating about the jobs that they have created. But in the Hunter, for instance, we have 15 per cent youth unemployment. If we can get those young people into jobs then we are helping our communities in regional areas.
But again, we see a Sydney‑centric view of the world with this Payroll Tax Amendment (Jobs Plus) Bill. The Government congratulates and pats itself on the back but there is no consideration for regional areas. I am pleased to be able to stand in this place as a regional MP and defend regional jobs and young people in regional areas to ensure they have job opportunities, and that businesses in our areas have an opportunity. For once the Government is supporting them, which it has not done for a long time. We all know about the closure of manufacturing, particularly in the region that I represent, the Hunter, where we have seen tens of thousands of jobs lost in the past 10 years with this Government. So it is critically important that we put our intentions into legislation, and this time the Government has agreed, which is excellent. We now have a threshold of 20 outside of the Sydney metropolitan area. I suggest that the Government considers these measures in a lot of the legislation that it brings to this place—which is always Sydney‑centric— and thinks about areas beyond the Hawkesbury or Sutherland or, indeed, the Blue Mountains and beyond as well.
I also support annual reporting, which is critical. Again, the Government has agreed to that, and so it should. We must make sure that these mechanisms that are put in place are working. The only way we can do that is through transparency, but we see a lack of transparency in most things from this Government. It is good to have the opportunity to put that in this legislation as well. It would be beneficial for the Government to use the amendments as an example for its other legislation, so when it says 10,000 jobs here or 50,000 jobs there we have a reporting mechanism to show whether those jobs have come to fruition. When do we ever see that? Never. We have put it into legislation, which is critically important. Again, I am pleased about the sensible amendments moved by our Labor colleagues in the upper House. I cannot stress strongly enough how important they are and how much I support them, along with my colleagues in both this House and the other place. I commend the amendments to the House.
Mr STUART AYRES (PenrithMinister for Jobs, Investment, Tourism and Western Sydney) (16:36:52):
— I will make a few remarks because I do not want to break too much of the spirit of bipartisanship around these amendments to the bill. We are all trying to do the same thing. I acknowledge that there was quite significant engagement about what Jobs Plus does in regional New South Wales. The threshold of 30 is low. We have accepted the position of moving to 20 to facilitate greater job creation in regional New South Wales. There is no recognition that this was not something that the Government did not consider, or that the Government was not focused on job creation in regional New South Wales. We are more than happy to agree to the amendments. That is how Parliament works and we should allow this exercise to function as if it was a normal process. That is what we are paid to do. I also say that the numbers we quote in question time and in speeches in this Parliament—the Treasurer does this regularly when talking about job numbers—are not made up. They are numbers that are reported by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. I used them today when I talked about the number of jobs that were lost in New South Wales in the first quarter of last year in relation to the COVID pandemic and the number of jobs that have been returned. Those numbers are not made up.
They are not fictitious. They are reported by accepted research entities and used as measurements and vision benchmarks for the economic performance of the State. Whilst I did not think there would be an issue with introducing this reporting mechanism to the bill, I have no problem with it in this case. The one thing that is different about this compared to perhaps the standard reporting of jobs that have been created in the State is that there is a clear payroll tax exemption—we know that a job has been created for which we are not collecting payroll tax. The benefit of this piece legislation is that we know we are not losing because if the exemption did not exist that job would not have come to New South Wales. Businesses are responding directly to the incentive that has been put in place, so it is easily measured. The amendments are sensible and that is why the Government has accepted them.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER:
The question is that the amendments be agreed to.
Amendments agreed to.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER:
The question is that clauses 1 and 2, and schedule 1 as amended be agreed to.
Clauses 1 and 2, and schedule 1 as amended agreed to.
Mr STUART AYRES:
That this bill be now read a third time.
Motion agreed to.