ABC BRISBANE DRIVE
MONDAY, 3 AUGUST 2020
SUBJECTS: University funding; JobKeeper and compliance; Foreign interference; Aged care.
STEVE AUSTIN, HOST: Let's look at federal politics now with Jim Chalmers who is Labor's Shadow Treasury spokesperson, and the Labor member for Rankin, which is sort of based on that southside of Brisbane around the Logan City and Beenleigh areas. Jim Chalmers, welcome back to the program.
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: G'day, Steve. How was your break?
AUSTIN: The first week was hard, second week started to get better. I need a third one but it's not going to happen. There you go. Here we are. Jim Chalmers, the State Government here in Queensland has announced a $150 million loan facility for Queensland universities. There are about 10 Queensland universities. Is there more that the Federal Government should be doing to assist universities at the moment?
CHALMERS: Definitely. The first thing they should do is include them in the JobKeeper program. Universities are in all sorts of trouble, which is why it's good to see the State Government come and offer some support. But the truth is that universities need more help than that from the Federal Government. They've been excluded from JobKeeper. That's why we're seeing all these layoffs not just in Brisbane universities but up and down the coast and out in the regions where I spent the bulk of last week including at some of these campuses. It's a big problem. There are many things that the Government should be contemplating but I think the first thing they should do is include those workers in JobKeeper and prevent some of those layoffs.
AUSTIN: It's my understanding that behind the scenes many people feel we have too many universities in Australia as it is. Do you have a view on that? I know that's tangential to this question but, you know?
CHALMERS: That's one of the perennial debates in higher education. I don't really see a need for a big rationalisation. That's not an area I spend a lot of time in.
CHALMERS: What's really important, particularly in Queensland, is that we have those regional communities really well serviced. I was on the CQU campus at Emerald last week, I think it must have been Tuesday of last week.
CHALMERS: They do such important work. They're training diesel fitters, and auto-electricians for the future, for the mining industry. They're doing really important work. We don't want to see those campuses fold because if they do some of those young people might get deterred from going to university or going to TAFE if it's it too far to travel.
AUSTIN: Yeah. This is a $150 million loan arrangement from the State Government. I forgot, Jim Chalmers, that universities are actually, what's the word, legally framed by state law, not federal law. I'd forgotten that, but it's one of the unusual things of Federation, isn't it? That the Federal Government gives a lot of money, but they're actually, what's the word, set up under state legislation specifically?
CHALMERS: It's one of those tricky ones where if you started with a blank sheet of paper you probably wouldn't do it that way. I do really think it's great that the State Government has come and made this announcement, but I think it's time for the Feds to step up as well.
AUSTIN: So you want to extend JobKeeper to universities? I know that on Friday in the House of Representatives tax and revenue committee hearing, the tax office announced that they would be starting to do what's called "compliance checks" for businesses that are getting the JobKeeper allowance for their staff. How do you feel about this? It happened with the robodebt process, where they wanted to claw back what they thought were inappropriately gained funds. It seems that the ATO, my assumption is that it's the ATO, will actually be checking that businesses are lawfully allowed to receive JobKeeper and are using it appropriately, not misusing it. How do you see it Jim Chalmers?
CHALMERS: Compliance is a good thing. We want to make sure that every dollar of this program, given the Government has had to borrow eye watering amounts of money to fund it, we want to make sure that it's going where it's needed, where it was intended to go. We want to make sure that it's not being rorted. At the same time it was a bit confusing at the start, the information was a bit inconsistent, maybe there are some honest mistakes in there. The Government should be looking for businesses who are rorting it but they shouldn't go over the top where there were honest mistakes made.
AUSTIN: You'd be well aware that some businesses are starting to have difficulty even getting staff in some places. But I think Labor has been a bit sceptical of that claim. Can you clarify what your thinking is on that?
CHALMERS: The point we've made is that job opportunities aren't exactly thick on the ground at the moment. I think there's something like 13 people on unemployment benefits for every job vacancy. We've said that to the extent that that exists, I don't think it's the dominant feature of the labour market at the moment. Things are really difficult. People want to grab opportunities where they can.
CHALMERS: No doubt there will be exceptions to that. No doubt in some industries or some parts of Australia there'll be examples where people are knocking back shifts, but I think overwhelmingly Australians want to work. The job of the Federal Government is to make sure that those opportunities are there.
AUSTIN: Do you know how they actually do the compliance testing? Is it just an accounting exercise, of do they knock on the door of business? Do you know?
CHALMERS: I'm not sure about that, but typically what they do is they do random audits where they pick a number of businesses, they make sure that the forms are right, they do some checking of the accounts and all that sort of thing. There's a thing called single touch payroll which is very helpful -
CHALMERS: - It's an automated system. I don't know exactly how they go about it. It's good that they go about making sure that they money is going where it's supposed to go, but let's not terrorise businesses who might have made an honest mistake trying to do the right thing.
AUSTIN: 4:45. News at 5. This is the ABC. Jim Chalmers is my guest. Jim Chalmers is the ALP Shadow Treasury spokesperson. He's also Labor's member for Rankin, which is a federal electorate on the southside of Brisbane here. I just want to briefly ask you about Bob Katter, the independent candidate from the electorate of Kennedy. He's called on the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security to look at whether there's any foreign interference in Australian universities following the case of University of Queensland student Drew Pavlou. Does Labor support this?
CHALMERS: I haven't seen the wording of what Bob's proposing. What usually happens with the motions moved in the parliament is that we discuss them as a parliamentary party. The parliament has been delayed a few weeks so that conversation has been delayed a few weeks as well. I do think that there's a serious issue there, that Bob is talking about. One of the things that makes our universities so well regarded around the world is that we do have a good reputation for independence. We need to guard that really carefully. I know that the universities themselves are a bit concerned about this and they're doing work behind the scenes. We're concerned about it too because if we want our universities to be world class for Australian kids to study there, and also as a destination for international students, then we need to make sure that that reputation is enhanced rather than diminished and that means if three are any of these issues floating around, that we clamp down on them.
AUSTIN: Alright. Jim Chalmers, before I let you go, just a couple of quick questions about aged care. I know you're busy but is the pandemic revealing we need to reform the aged care industry? It receives massive amounts of Federal Government money. Given some of the issues that are arising in aged care while this pandemic plays out, is there any indication that we need to reform or change the regulations as to how we regulate the aged care industry in Australia?
CHALMERS: We definitely do, Steve. I think that was pretty clear even before the horror show, frankly, that we're seeing now in aged care. It has been really clear for some time that whether it's regulation or whether it's the workforce issues, our aged care system has been broken for some time now. This has just really shone a spotlight on that. We've got theaged care royal commission going on at the moment. They've made some interim recommendations about trying to reduce the reliance on chemical restraints for example, getting people under 65 out of homes, getting the home care waiting lists sorted out, all these sorts of things. There are heaps of things that we should be doing. My colleague Julie Collins wrote to the Prime Minister the other day, saying that we should extend the crisis arrangements that are in Victoria to some of the other states, too, because there are worrying events going on in some of the other states as well. We need to make sure that we're on top of them.
AUSTIN: The industry receives a massive amount of federal money to run this, into the billions. I think it's something like nearly $22 billion of federal funding every year. Is that properly accounted for?
CHALMERS: First of all, it's not cheap. I haven't been through the books of every home -
AUSTIN: Fair enough.
CHALMERS: - but it's not cheap. It is a big amount of money and it's going to get bigger as our population ages and as we deal with some of these pressures that have been identified. There's a big job to be done here. One of the things, not to be too political about it at the end of our interview Steve, but we really need the Prime Minister to take responsibility here. It's a federal matter, aged care. It's very clear. We can't see the buck-passing that we've seen in recent days. It's time for him to step in and take control of it. It was a mess before, it's a horror show now, and unless we get on top of these issues then we'll be doing older Australians a really big disservice.
AUSTIN: Thanks for your time.
CHALMERS: Thank you Steve.