JIM CHALMERS MP
MEMBER FOR RANKIN
ABC BRISBANE DRIVE
MONDAY, 6 SEPTEMBER 2021
SUBJECTS: Climate change; JobKeeper.
STEVE AUSTIN, HOST: Let's go to Jim Chalmers. Jim Chalmers is The Shadow Treasurer and federal Labor Member for Rankin. Jim Chalmers, NewsCorp's going to champion climate change, does this have anything to do with the Senate Media Inquiry underway at the moment?
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: You'd have to ask them Steve, but I think what it shows is how isolated our federal government is now. They were already out on a limb, out on their Pat Malone almost. When you think about all the states and territories, Labor and Liberal have signed up. The countries with which we compare ourselves, all signed up. Big business, small business, medium sized business in Australia, signed up including miners and farmers and the like and now NewsCorp. And the reason why Scott Morrison's so isolated is because he puts a higher premium on placating people on his backbench and in his cabinet who don't want to do anything about getting cleaner and cheaper energy and all the jobs and opportunities that will flow from it. So I think it's just another reminder of that.
AUSTIN: Kevin Rudd's been often pointing out that he feels that News Cooperation has been at different time deliberately, overtly against, particularly the Labor Party in Australia, almost like an independent political party in themselves rather than a media organisation. Do you think that's the case, Jim Chalmers? Kevin was back in the media diversity inquiry today.
CHALMERS: I think Kevin's views on this is a pretty well known.
AUSTIN: But what are yours? What are your views, Jim Chalmers?
CHALMERS: I don't spend a lot of my time thinking about it or worrying about it to be frank.
AUSTIN: Okay, righto.
CHALMERS: Clearly, that organisation has been pretty critical of the Labor Party in my time in politics. I try to engage as much as I can. You've gotta be pretty thick skinned I think to be in federal politics and so I try to be that, but a lot of people have got views like Kevin's. Our position is we do want more diversity in our media. We do think that there's an issue there. We do want a more competitive media landscape. And the decisions that we make about new media and the decisions that we make about...
AUSTIN: You still there, Jim? You still there, Jim? Jim Chalmers? I'm sorry, we'll see if we can get Jim back on another line.
AUSTIN: We've got Jim Chalmers back on the traditional phone line this time. Jim Chalmers, you were just telling me that you don't think about it a great deal. Do you want to just pick up what your observations were?
CHALMERS: I think people have made very similar observations to what Kevin's made. I just try and engage as much as I can, try and engage with the journalists from News Corporation and from all the various media outlets.
CHALMERS: And I think when it comes to media diversity we do have an issue. I think Kevin's right about that. And the decisions that we take in federal Labor are really about trying to make sure that the media environment can be as diverse as possible. I think that's a challenge.
AUSTIN: Jim Chalmers, I'll tell you where I'm heading with this. I want to talk to you about the JobKeeper payments and the money that's been pocketed by some companies that have done very well out of the pandemic thank you very much, in just a moment. But you were in Wayne Swan's office when he was federal Treasurer and News Corporation went Wayne Swan and thus you by implication, when you did the Building the Education Revolution to stimulate the economy and the payments to Australians. I still go to schools where they still say we're sitting here, we're standing here, in this hall which came about because of you know the Education Revolution under federal Labor at the time. In other words, there were problems quite clearly, but problems occur in any program, state or federal, but you actually built things. But here we are today, with a different government, whereby apparently $13 billion of JobKeeper payments has gone out to companies who are increasing their earnings. I'm just wondering, I'm surprised that federal Labor has not made perhaps more of this about the double standard with News Corp, or have I missed something?
CHALMERS: That's because our focus is on the Government and they've been the primary offender when it comes to that double standard that you just mentioned. I go to schools all the time and quite frequently the teachers and principals and parents will say to me, look if you run into Kevin or Swanny can you tell them thanks for this hall that they built that we use and we didn't have before. So I think that's right. There is a massive double standard there. I mean there was a tiny, tiny fraction of school halls where tradies and subcontractors quoted a little more than they should have and the Government, the Liberal Party, the now Government then Opposition went berko about it. Now they're responsible for the single most wasteful program in the history of the Commonwealth, at least $13 billion sprayed around on businesses which didn't need support at the same time as small businesses and workers who still need help are going without. On top of that, this is a Government that pursues social security recipients to the grave if they consider them to have been overpaid in the social security system, but they won't lift a finger for this $13 billion for businesses whose profits went up rather than down during the pandemic. So I think it's more about the Government than about any media organisation, I think that double standard is there. And I think people are working out the Government, that they've got two sets of rules - one for people in the social security system and another for big business. If they applied the same standard to themselves that they applied to the Labor Party during the last Labor Government, then this stuff up of theirs, this outrageous rorting and spraying around in a wasteful fashion of this money, is many, many, many multiples of even the worst assessment of what happened with Building the Education Revolution.
AUSTIN: My guest is Jim Chalmers, the Shadow Treasurer and federal Labor member for Rankin. This is ABC Radio Brisbane. I know that Andrew Leigh, your Shadow Spokesperson, the Member for Fenner, has been raising this regularly in Canberra. But what are you actually going to do about it, other than just raise it? In other words, if federal Labor joined with maybe the crossbench or the Greens or what have you, you'd have no problem getting laws passed through parliament to get this reversed, surely? To get them to pay the money back if they've made a profit?
CHALMERS: First of all, Andrew has been absolutely terrific on this as you acknowledge. I think he's been really fantastic and he's a key part of our economic team. And what he's shown, and what we've been able to show in federal Labor, is if you put some pressure on and you introduce some transparency then some of this money starts to be paid back. And we've seen some of it paid back as a consequence of public pressure. We're also trying to get through the parliament a change to the rules so if you turn over more than ten million bucks, so if you're a medium sized or a big business in this country and you got JobKeeper, we think people should know that - so there's a bit more transparency. So, at best, we might be six months away from government if the election goes our way, let's see what we can do in the interim before we start to consider those sorts of things. Let's see what we can do to put pressure on the Government and on those businesses that took JobKeeper and didn't need it, see how much of that we can get repaid and then see what the situation is after the election.
AUSTIN: Jason of Springfield, one of my listeners, points out yes this JobKeeper program is a wasteful program but you guys supported it during the pandemic. And he's quite right, you guys did support it during the pandemic?
CHALMERS: I'm so glad that he raised that and that you read out that question, Steve. Because what your listeners need to know is that the parliament supported the program overall - and the design of the program, the eligibility for the program, was delegated to the Treasurer entirely. So all of these issues - around implementation and design of the program, who got it and who didn't, and when, and how much - that was all wholly and solely the responsibility of the Treasurer. That's point number one. Point number two is that we did want wage subsidies, and we do want wage subsidies for businesses and workers who genuinely need support during these really difficult times. And the tragedy of JobKeeper is that JobKeeper is a very, very good idea which was badly, badly stuffed up by the Treasurer. JobKeeper wage subsidies are important. For so many workers they were the difference between keeping their job or hitting the fence. And so the tragedy is not that JobKeeper was introduced, the tragedy was just how badly it was stuffed-up so that at least $13 billion was wasted. As you rightly point out, if that was the Labor Party, the Liberals and their cheerleaders and suck-ups and sycophants would be saying that this was the end of the world. This is the most wasteful program in the history of the Commonwealth. And what rubs the salt in the wound for so many people, is the Government was saying to many small businesses and workers 'oh we can't afford to support you, there's no blank check here' at the same time as they were spraying money around. And at the same time as they were pursuing some social security recipients to the grave for a few hundred dollars that they felt had been overpaid in pensions or other payments.
AUSTIN: Some companies like Harvey Norman have paid some money back, but nowhere near all the JobKeeper payments they received. Louis Vuitton Louis apparently increased their revenue by, I forget the amount, but claimed $6 million in JobKeeper. I mean, should companies like this be forced to pay the entire amount back given it's been the best reporting season ever in Australia's corporate history, in terms of dividend return to shareholders. This year in Australia. I've never seen anything like it. I think the Financial Review said that it was the best reporting season ever in terms of dividend returns to shareholders. At the height of a pandemic, on the back of taxpayer funded JobKeeper payments, why shouldn't they just give it all back if they made a profit?
CHALMERS: We think if they didn't need JobKeeper that businesses should pay it back. You’ve raised some examples there; if we read out every business that was in that boat we'd be here for hours. There are lots of businesses in that place. And so what we've said all along, and we've been very consistent, is that it would be good if businesses who didn't need it, whose profits went up rather than down, some businesses profits actually tripled or better, then clearly they should pay it back. But the problem we've got here is when the Treasurer hasn't lifted a finger to recover any of these $13 billion in taxpayer dollars then businesses will continue to make off with all of this taxpayer money, which could be so much better spent in local communities or in boosting the economy or supporting businesses particularly, but not only, in Sydney and Melbourne that still need help. So that's the issue here.
AUSTIN: Jim Chalmers, I'll leave it there. Thanks for your time this afternoon.
CHALMERS: Thank you, Steve.
AUSTIN: Jim Chalmers is the federal ALP Shadow Treasury Spokesperson. He's also the federal Member for Rankin on the Southside.