Some much-needed diversity, but youth remain underrepresented on Commission that'll be determining jobs of the future

Some much-needed diversity, but youth still underrepresented on board that’ll be determining jobs of the future


It’s still male-dominated, but Prime Minister Scott Morrison has revamped his COVID-19 Commission with at least a little bit of diversity as it shifts into a new mode of “creating jobs and stimulating our economy”.

Supply Nation CEO Laura Berry has been appointed to the new-look commission to advise on Indigenous business and procurement, along with Samantha Hogg advising on resources and infrastructure, and Su McCluskey, advising on agriculture and regional Australia.

Unfortunately, however, the refreshed Commission fails to adequately address those who are bearing the brunt of the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and will be dealing with the consequences for decades to come: those aged under 35.

Nor does it specifically include someone with duties to advise on youth.

And although the additional three women are a hugely welcome change, this shake up hasn’t gone far enough on gender diversity. At least 50 per cent female representation is needed at a minimum. Not only because women are being significantly harder hit by this recession, but also because women are already underrepresented in the other aspects of the Coalition Government’s decision-making processes.

One of the existing two women on the panel, Catherine Tanna, has announced she is stepping down — meaning it will be left with just four.

Meanwhile, clean energy experience is seriously lacking on this board — at a time when other countries are taking this opportunity to reset their economies to be greener and cleaner, including in New Zealand where Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced the creation of 11,000 jobs aimed at protecting the environment.

On Monday, new research from the Productivity Commission revealed that people in their 20s and 30s may face long-term consequences from COVID in the form of lower-paid and “lower quality” jobs. It found in the years following the Global Financial Crisis, younger people faced more challenges in the job market than their older peers, and the Pandemic will further exacerbate the problem.

The unemployment rate for those aged 20 to 24 hit 13.9 per cent in June, and climbed considerably also for those aged 25 to 34. As one of the researchers, Catherine De Fontenay wrote on the Productivity Commission’s report: “Many young people have been pushed into unemployment by the recession and are likely to find it harder to get the jobs they could have once expected when jobs come back.

“The scarring could last some time.”

This seems like a very, very good reason to give young people a say over how this country will be determining where it can create jobs as quickly as possible. Especially as young people again will also be dealing with the consequences of where and how jobs are created — and would do much better in the long run if those jobs are forward-thinking and supportive of a clean energy future.

Of the three additional men to join the new look board, two appear to be in their late thirties. KPMG’s Paul Howes will be advising on superannuation, workforce and workplace relations, while entrepreneur Bao Hoang is advising on business (franchising) and health care services. Retired career banker Mike Hirst also joins, advising on financial services.

Morrison said this commission will not be an external agency. Rather, “it will work within government and can form part of the cabinet deliberative processes.” He wants the Commission to focus on what can be done to create as many jobs as quickly as possible. This extends from its previous role, which was to “fix problems”, like sourcing personal protective equipment and supporting business supply chains.

A number of concerns have been raised about conflictions of interest within the commission, notably, as it’s so-far pushed a gas-led recovery, and its chair Nev Power has considerable ties to the mining industry, including as the former CEO of Fortescue Metals. There is also little transparency regarding how new members are appointed and decisions from this panel will be made.

The National COVID-19 Commission Advisory Board now includes:

Mike Hirst
Samantha Hogg
Su McCluskey
Bao Hoang
Laura Berry
Paul Howes
Nev Power
Jane Halton
Paul Little
David Thoday
Catherine Tanna, who will be stepping down once existing projects and energy are completed.

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