Reform for jobs growth as recession hits

Christian Porter is meeting with union heads and employer associations on workplace reform.
Christian Porter is meeting with union heads and employer associations on workplace reform.

Businesses and unions are putting their differences aside and donning their thinking caps in a bid to remove barriers to jobs growth amid the coronavirus economic slump.

It comes as 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.

Treasury officials and other bureaucrats briefed the meetings on the scale of the challenge facing each sector.

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.

Mr Frydenberg says the feedback has 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.

Meanwhile, Australia's universities have warned border closures could cost them billions over the next four years, locking tens of thousands of international students out of the country.

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

The federal government's early move to stop people coming from China was especially damaging, being the largest source of international students in Australia.

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

There have been 1.5 million tests in Australia so far.

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.

Australian Associated Press