JIM CHALMERS MP
MEMBER FOR RANKIN
WEDNESDAY, 17 MARCH 2021
SUBJECTS: Morrison Government’s JobKeeper cuts; Morrison Government rolling out vaccines too slowly and removing economic support too quickly; Tax cuts and half-price plane tickets won’t benefit people who don’t have a job; Cairns tourism operators underwhelmed by the Morrison Government’s ‘support’ package.
IAN ‘BLUEY’ GEORGE, HOST: Down in Canberra, it's not sort of like the Grammys, is it Jim? Is it like the Grammys down there?
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: It couldn't be less like the Grammys!
‘BLUEY’: (LAUGHTER) And they say that the 'Canberra bubble' is alive and doing well. No, nothing like the Grammys. Dr. Jim, welcome along, Shadow Treasurer, Member for Rankin in Logan City. And you've been a busy boy!
CHALMERS: There's been a lot on, Bluey. It's a pleasure to talk to you, but it's one of those weeks in the parliament. We're talking about a lot of things - JobKeeper, Industrial Relations, we're talking about JobSeeker, a whole bunch of things, so it's been a very busy week.
‘BLUEY’: Yeah. So, barely a fortnight to go with the current JobKeeper payments, how's that gonna affect the local Logan City residents? I know there's gonna be some people a little concerned?
CHALMERS: I think so, Bluey. Unfortunately, we've got something like 10,324 workers in our local area and 3355 businesses, most of them small and family businesses, who will have their JobKeeper cut at the end of this month. So, less than two weeks away. And for all of those workers, and all of those small businesses, it's going to be a very difficult period. Some, hopefully, will be okay but many will not. So, we're worried about job losses in the next couple of months.
‘BLUEY’: Gonna come back to that in a tick, because there's more about that. You know, the federal government is rolling out vaccines, very slowly, and pulling JobKeeper support at the same time from the Queensland economy, and doing it far too quickly. Now what can be done to avoid a certain disastrous outcome? And how does small business cope with this, in particular?
CHALMERS: Well, I think you're absolutely spot on, Bluey, to link the two things. Because when the government said that they would cut JobKeeper at the end of this month, the Prime Minister said that around the same time as JobKeeper is cut, there'd be four million vaccinations carried out in Australia - and they're absolutely nowhere near that. They're almost four million short of that, with only a couple of weeks to go. So, you're right to link it, because cutting support from the economy before the vaccine is really getting out and about in our communities, is a really big problem.
So a lot of small businesses - as you know, I spend a lot of time with our local small business community - are very worried about what they're going to do about it. Unfortunately, a number of them will be laying people off, which is a situation we desperately want to avoid. Others will be making other kinds of decisions about hours, and the like. But I think what they have recognised - and certainly we recognise on the Labor side of the parliament - is that some businesses have recovered from the recession, but many businesses are still at risk of being left behind. Whether they are subject to restrictions still, or international border closures, or whatever it might be. And so, we need to help those small businesses, who are good small businesses, who would survive in normal times. I think the government should be doing a bit more, not cutting JobKeeper. Because when you cut JobKeeper, you cut jobs.
‘BLUEY’: Okay, so in a realistic world, everybody would like to see some sort of realistic JobKeeper program that would keep business afloat. It's okay to say, yeah, well, I've had a good run it. Well, that's not the case right now.
CHALMERS: There was a guy on the news on Monday night, who I thought just summed this up perfectly. And he said, what's the point of leading us across the desert, if at the end of it you just kind of drop us off a cliff? And I think that's how a lot of people see it. And because JobKeeper has done a reasonable job, a pretty good job, in fact, of protecting jobs during the worst of the crisis, it's the reason why we called for it in the first place, that doesn't mean that we should just turn the tap off, and leave a whole bunch of people in the lurch. And so, what we've said, is the government could do something reasonable, and responsible, and targeted, and temporary, just for a little while longer. Nobody's saying JobKeeper should be a permanent feature of the budget, or the economy, but for a little bit longer, for those businesses doing it especially tough, it might prevent some of the job losses that people are warning about .
‘BLUEY’: Okay, Jim. So, the Labor opposition pushed for wage subsidies in the first place because, in all reality, it was the right thing to do, and everybody was in agreement, both sides of the House. So, in the government's eyes now, what's changed?
CHALMERS: I think you're right to say that the government and the opposition agreed on JobKeeper. We proposed it in the first place. Initially, the government said that they didn't want to do it, that it was a dangerous idea. And we were pleased when they changed their mind. We were pleased when they came to our view. And we welcomed it. We didn't rub their nose in it, because we wanted that good outcome. We're pleased that we went about it in that fashion.
I think what's changed in the government's mind, is that they're engaged in this kind of flurry of self-congratulation about a recovering economy. And they want to pretend that everything's all of a sudden hunky-dory for everybody. And they just don't have the capacity to understand what's happening in communities like ours, which is that some people are still doing it tough, a lot of people are at risk of being left out and left behind.
We’re trying to focus them on that because at the end of this month when JobKeeper is cut, tax cuts won't make a difference if you don't have a job. The hiring subsidies are only for people under 35, so if you're over 35 you don't get that. And they've got these kind of half price airfares, which obviously won't help everyone who's at risk. So, that's no substitute for doing something meaningful on JobKeeper, and on a jobs plan, which recognises that in unemployment terms, and under employment terms, we're still a long way from where we want to be.
‘BLUEY’: Now you spend a bit of time, what, four or five times, you've been up in Cairns in North Queensland. Or, shall I say, Far North Queensland.
CHALMERS: Yeah, I have.
‘BLUEY’: What are you seeing up there? And do you have time to go into this?
CHALMERS: I do, Bluey. I've spent a lot of time in Cairns with my Queensland Senate colleague Nita Green, and we speak to the tourism operators and the small businesses. We speak to the local community there, and also in places like Launceston and Hobart. But Cairns is really the epicentre of this issue that we've been talking about. It relies, heavily, on international tourists. It's more or less on JobKeeper life support, and that plug will be pulled at the end of the month. And so, there's a lot of concern there. And even if you talk to the business groups up there, and they're grateful for any support, and they welcome any support, but they don't think that these half-price airfares is going to cut it when it comes to supporting the town after JobKeeper disappears. And so, I try to listen to what they say. I spend a lot of time with the small business community locally in our area, and around Australia, and I try and listen and reflect their views. Because if we do the wrong thing by these businesses, then we'll lose jobs, so there is a case to act on their concerns.
‘BLUEY’: Dr. Jim Chalmers, Shadow Treasurer, Member for Rankin, always good to talk to you, and I hope we can talk again real soon.
CHALMERS: That'd be terrific, Bluey. Thanks for your time.
‘BLUEY’: No problem at all. You take it easy.