JIM CHALMERS MP
MEMBER FOR RANKIN
SUNDAY, 9 JANUARY 2022
SUBJECTS: Novak Djokovic; Free rapid tests make good health sense and good economic sense; Federal election will be a contest between Labor’s plans for a better future and an incompetent Prime Minister and Government that never takes responsibility.
LEO PUGLISI, HOST: Jim Chalmers, thanks for joining us.
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: Thanks for having me on your show, Leo.
PUGLISI: Good to have you here. So obviously, the big story right now is Novak Djokovic, we are expecting further developments on that sometime on Monday but, you know, Scott Morrison, obviously he said in that Thursday press conference, he didn't have a valid medical exemption. You've got the Victorian state government saying they didn't issue the visa, what do you make of all this? Should he be sent back or do we let him play?
CHALMERS: I think first of all, if he doesn't comply with the rules and regulations, then he shouldn't be here. There shouldn't be one set of rules for a celebrity and another set of rules for everybody else. I think that that's self-evident and this process that's underway will help determine what the story is there. I think Australians are a bit sceptical about the Prime Minister's role in this, not just that we've had the usual blame shift. First it was the Victorians, then it was Tennis Australia - everybody else's fault - and then he saw a political angle in it and so now we get all this chest-beating because he's hoping that Australians won't focus on the fact that he stuffed up the rapid antigen tests, stuffed up the booster rollout so far, there aren't enough groceries on the shelves in supermarkets. He’s hoping that people focus on Novak Djokovic and not on the Government's failures, but I think more Australians care about the shortage of tests, groceries and boosters. They care more about what's happening in our schools and childcare centres than they care about whether or not Novak plays.
PUGLISI: I'll get to the testing situation and the vaccines in a moment, but at 6 News, we've been speaking to people throughout this pandemic who are Australians or Australian citizens who have not been able to come back. You see it on social media almost daily, they're fully vaccinated, some are boosted, and they haven't been able to come into Australia, but obviously, Novak Djokovic has. Would Labor, if you guys did win government - and that could be as soon as March - would you be trying to prioritise Australian citizens rather than the celebrities and the sports stars, when it comes to people actually getting into Australia?
CHALMERS: I think two things about that. First of all, as I said we need to make sure that there's faith in the system, and faith in the system comes from ensuring that there isn't one set of rules for the best tennis player in the world and another set of rules for everybody else. That would be an important principle that would guide us. Secondly, we've said for some time there are issues with people who are stranded overseas. There are tens of thousands of people who've been in that position over the last couple of years and so we've been critical of the Government and the way that they've managed that. If we need to have robust rules, we need to see them fairly applied and we need to make sure that people can come home safely.
PUGLISI: Yeah, now there have been calls - coming back to the vaccine rollout now - there have been calls from some to delay the return to school for primary school students in an attempt to get them vaccinated, that obviously starts very, very soon for five to eleven year-olds. Is that something you'd support, you’d want to see in an attempt to get these kids vaccinated?
CHALMERS: If it's consistent with the health advice. I'm a parent of young kids myself, I've got two kids going into primary school this month here in Brisbane, and it's a very anxious time for parents. Parents are worried about getting their kids vaccinated and also the return to school. The Premiers - and hopefully the federal government - is taking the best available health advice on that and coming to a reasonable decision on it. I think people will understand and accept a decision if it's based on the right advice and made for the right reasons, but there's a lot of anxiety amongst parents of school aged kids and I think that's understandable.
PUGLISI: Now, these long testing lines - whether that's for PCR or whether it's people trying to get rapid antigen tests - have just continued and they're still continuing. Who should take responsibility for this? Is this something the federal government needs to take responsibility for or is this something that falls onto the states?
CHALMERS: Scott Morrison needs to take responsibility for this given the reason we've got this absolute debacle when it comes to testing is because Scott Morrison, once again, hasn't done his job and hasn't taken responsibility. He's always taking credit when things go well, but when things go bad - as they have been going diabolically bad in testing - then he's nowhere to be found. It’s his responsibility to sort out supply, it's his responsibility to make sure that the tests are available freely, and instead he’s done the usual kind of buck passing. We’ve had Australians waiting in line for eight or nine hours, we've had people fainting while they're waiting queues, we've had people driving around while they're at their most vulnerable and their most contagious, from chemist to chemist and supermarket to supermarket, trying to get tests and if they can find any they're typically unaffordable because the price has been skyrocketing. So the best way through this - and we've made a constructive suggestion in the course of the last week - which is the rapid antigen tests should be free. That's the right thing to do but it's also good economic policy, when you consider the rapid tests when you buy them in bulk are about $3 or $4 a pop, whereas the PCR tests which people have been getting for free cost the Government $100 a pop, and that's before you factor in all of the economic carnage that's come from this stuff-up on rapid testing. There's some really important research out there by Flinders University in the last few days, which shows that the cost to government of supplying rapid tests for free is absolutely dwarfed by the cost to the economy of not supplying them for free. So it's good economic policy to do the right thing and provide these tests that will take some of the pressure off the queues which have been unacceptably long.
PUGLISI: So you’re calling for them to be free for all and we know that the Prime Minister announced it for certain concessional card holders - but obviously that is not everyone, there are still millions people who could not get it free. Why then did Labor and even more specifically, Anthony Albanese, I think he was saying, you want them to be affordable, but I don't think you were initially saying you wanted them to become free. Why did it take, a day to just say, blanket, it should be free?
CHALMERS: Well, we considered all of the options Leo, as you'd expect from an alternative government. We want to make sure that the proposals that we're putting forward are responsible and the landing point that we reached is entirely consistent with what we've been saying for some weeks now, which is that nobody should be denied a test on the basis of not being able to afford one. The best way to ensure that - the fairest, most responsible, most efficient way to ensure that - is to provide these tests free of charge via the Medicare system. It's good for the person who needs that test to prevent them going from chemist to chemist and supermarket to supermarket paying $60 and $70 and $80 a throw. It’s also good for the economy and the broader community, so that people can afford to do the right thing by their co-workers and their loved ones to get a test and if they've got COVID to take the appropriate steps.
PUGLISI: Do you think your initial messaging around RATs was confusing or conflicting? You are saying – as I should repeat, you are saying now free for all - but, you know, you weren't initially. Do you think that could have confused some people?
CHALMERS: I don't think so, Leo. I've seen that kind of commentary on social media as you have but the position that we came to is entirely consistent with what we've been saying for some time. We want to provide those tests for free, that’s the most responsible and fairest way to do it. It's good for people that receive those tests but it’s also good for the economy. That’s why we came to that position and I don't think it matters that we took another day to come to that conclusion, when it's entirely consistent with what we've been saying for a long time.
PUGLISI: And Labor could be the next federal government as soon as March, March or May is when we're likely to see the election. Can I just confirm, if you were in government in March would you be making RATs free for all or is that something you're just telling the federal government to do now, the current federal government, and would not implement by March, when we could have a very different COVID situation. It is changing rapidly, but Labor in government in March, let’s pretend that's happening, would RATs be free for all?
CHALMERS: Well, first things first Leo. As Anthony Albanese said, this is a problem that can't actually wait for a change of government. This is a problem that's with us here and now. It's a problem that only a government which is in government in January can solve, so we've made that clear. Obviously, if there is still a need if and when we come to government, the position that we're coming from on this, but this is a problem that can't wait for a change. It's a problem that exists right now in January and it will exist until the Government fixes it. It's for the Morrison Government to fix it in the first instance and so we're calling on the Government to do it.
PUGLISI: Are you confident in your chances of getting into government, whenever that may be, March or May? We've been talking, throughout the past two years about so-called pandemic governments and pandemic elections and how - at least in Australia - every state and territory that has had an election since the pandemic began, the government that was in power retained power and was re-elected. Is that something that could possibly come into effect federally. Are you confident that Labor will win?
CHALMERS: I think that reason that you just identified is a reason why we're not complacent or take for granted the outcome of this election. There are still benefits to being the incumbent, even an incumbent which is getting things so diabolically wrong as this Government is. Also, as you know with your history of watching elections, the last election didn't go the way that the pundits expected. So we don't take a single vote for granted. As we speak, Anthony Albanese is on an eight day tour through regional Queensland, and I'll be joining him on that tour. That’s because we will go to every corner of Australia and make sure that we earn the support of the Australian people and we are able to tell them all about a better future that they can enjoy under a Labor Government, which is all about support for working families, and more secure and better paid jobs, and a future made in Australia. The election will be about our vision for the future, versus the monumental debacle that we've seen under this Prime Minister who won't take responsibility for the economic consequences and the health consequences of his mismanagement of this pandemic.
PUGLISI: Alright, just finally, Labor, as I said, you haven't been in government since 2013, which was a while back. For a bit of perspective, that was the first year I was starting primary school. So it's been a while since then. Anthony Albanese is the current Leader. There's always talks on social media about who's going to take the Opposition to the next election. Can I just confirm, are you confident in Anthony Albanese’s leadership and are you happy to see him take Labor to the next federal election, just finally?
CHALMERS: 100% and I want to be a Treasurer in an Anthony Albanese led Labor Government. All of the colleagues are united, unlike the other side. We want to make Anthony the Prime Minister, not just for its own sake but because of all the good that we can do for the people that we seek to represent.
PUGLISI: Alright, Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers, thanks very much for taking the time and hopefully we can catch up a bit later and a bit closer to the federal election.
CHALMERS: I look forward to it Leo, much appreciated.